Parental Alienation Syndrome—Grounds for Custody Changes in Mississippi?

While divorce is, regrettably, painful for all those involved, it can be especially hard on the children. Custody battles can get nasty, with the real losers being the children. Although most parents are aware, on some level, that “bad-mouthing” the other parent is not a beneficial practice, hurt and anger may step in, removing whatever self-control the parent may have been exercising. Parental alienation occurs when one parent actively seeks to pull the children away from the other as a form of retaliation for issues experienced during the marriage.

Of course there are various levels of parental alienation ranging from the occasional snarky comment to an all-out war against the other parent, using the children as pawns and with little consideration of the short and long-term effects. (Keep in mind that if the parent has committed acts of verbal, physical or sexual abuse against the children, leading them to shun that parent, this is not considered parental alienation.)

One Extreme Case of Parental Alienation

While divorced dads are the most likely to claim parental alienation syndrome, men are not always the target. Over a year ago, a lesbian couple made the news for what one partner characterized as a ten-year campaign with a clear goal of parental alienation. The parent who gave birth to the children via artificial insemination was awarded primary custody while the other parent was awarded visitation rights. Time and time again excuses were made, rendering the non-custodial parent unable to spend time with her children. While the judge in the case ruled the children (ages 11 and 14) no longer thought seeing the alienated parent was “valid or worthwhile” and that it was more important for them to live the way they wanted, a Court of Appeals disagreed.

The Court stated the view of the girls had been tainted by the birth mother, adding there was a clear mismatch between what the girls said and how they behaved.  The Court further stated that the original judge failed to factor in the crucial importance of the non-custodial parent’s relationship with the children and the damage they would suffer if that relationship was lost. The parent encouraging the alienation was sharply reprimanded by the court, asked to cease alienating the children against the other parent and was told custody could be given to the other parent if the alienating behaviors did not stop.

Occasional Alienators

Most divorced parents fall into this category; while they generally keep the best interests of the children uppermost in the equation and are overall fairly cooperative with the other children, anger may nonetheless break through occasionally, leading to an unfortunate comment to the children. These parents share information and actually make a concerted effort to avoid saying negative things about the other parent in front of or to the children. Even in this mildest form, the children can end up feeling torn between their parents. They may feel a need to defend the parent being disparaged or may feel they must side with the parent making the negative remarks. Either way, the children likely end up feeling secretly angry about the situation.

Full-Blown Alienators

Parents who actively and constantly say unkind things about the other parent in front of the children might be considered “mid-level alienators.” These parents recognize they should not be saying negative things about the other parent, but frustration and anger gets in the way. In order to assuage the guilt they feel for the negative remarks, they may tell themselves they are protecting the children from the other parent in some way. In extreme cases parents may carefully plan the alienation strategy with a clear goal of causing the children to refuse to see the other parent. This is the most dangerous form of parental alienation, and if it can be proved, courts may change the original custody agreement, evening giving primary custody to the other parent.

Getting Legal Help When Your Children are Suffering Parental Alienation

If you are a parent who has suffered parental alienation following your divorce, your first step should be to speak to Matthew S. Poole. As a single father with a young child, Matthew S. Poole fully understands the myriad of issues involved in child custody arrangements. We will fight hard for your parental rights and will deal with your individual situation with experience and compassion. Child custody issues are often fraught with emotion and we will do our best to minimize any negative fallout your children may be experiencing. Call (601) 573-7429 today to speak with a knowledgeable divorce attorney.   

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