Posts Tagged ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’

The “Other Factor” That Can Sink Your Custody Claim: Alienating Child Affection

Monday, August 20th, 2018

I was recently in trial in the northern part of our great state and had a unique case wherein I had the good fortune of securing custody of a four-year-old little boy for my client, the father. The case was one of the most difficult I have ever handled in 14 years- both legally and emotionally. It was a roller-coaster of facts and subjectivity of the law, to say the least. The opposing attorney was highly competent; a seasoned prosecutor from Lee County- one of the best I have ever faced.

My client was guilty of some degree of minor violence; domestic abuse which was relatively easy to prove, and yet he obtained custody of his son. How can this happen, you may ask, and rightfully so. It seems the long odds stacked against my client were impossible to overcome. This case lasted 23 months in total. The victory was by a razor-thin margin. I was on hanging on every word from the court and counsel opposite until the very end.

Any custody attorney will harp on the factors a court will consider in determining the best interests in a child’s physical placement. Mom no longer has a clear and plain advantage, due in large part to the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The “tender years” doctrine has been significantly eroded, to the point that only breastfeeding an infant child confers some advantage to mom. Dad now starts on equal footing in a custody battle for all practical purposes. As a single father with sole legal and physical custody of my son, I have reaped the benefit of the recent change in law.

Beginning January 10, 2018 our office began a series of articles outlining all of the Albright factors- the defined matters for a court to consider in a custody dispute. We did not write only one article on the only non-specific Albright factor which is the most subjective; the one that is most easily described as a “catch-all”. Up for grabs and potentially up-ending any custody case are “other relevant factors”. What could these possibly be?

In all of the custody experience I have, never did I imagine that I could win a custody case based on these mysterious and elusive “other factors” when my client lost more than half of the specified Albright issues. Not in a million years did I believe that some undefined, highly subjective issue would win the day. And then, exactly that occured. I am still somewhat surprised by the result– pleasantly surprised, that is. The ugly head of parental alienation was the “other factor” that swayed the balance to my client’s victory.

Parental alienation of a child has always been regarded as paramount to a Mississippi court- even more so lately. That said, I have increasingly witnessed first-hand that if the alienating parent’s behavior is severe, courts will likely deem it to be tantamount to child abuse, negating what would be an award of physical custody to the opposing parent. To be frank, a decade ago this “other factor” would have been considered as just another Albright issue. Today, it can upend an entire case. That is music to my ears. Times have certainly changed.

Alienation comes in many shapes and forms. Most often it is in the nature of passive-aggressive parental alienation; making it difficult to get a hold of a child by phone, making subtle comments about the other parent’s morals and character, or even stoking a child’s concern about whether their other parent cares about them. Other times parental alienation takes on an overtly aggressive form.

The case that prompted me to write this article involved mom, who had a bi-racial son, instructing him to call his father and his family a “bunch of n___ers”. And it was all caught on tape. It didn’t happen only once, this four-year-old little guy, half African American, had made the infamous N-word a part of his vocabulary, all thanks to mom. It was horrible to hear on tape, heartbreaking at the very least.

The focus of this article is not necessarily parental alienation, it is a forewarning to parents who engage in extreme behaviors to the psychological and emotional detriment of their child. Be it excessive shaming of a child, prolonged absence, or just plain verbal cruelty, beware of the “other factors”–they can flat sink what would have otherwise been a custody victory. Chancery courts have broad discretion in child custody matters, and anything you say-to your child or anyone involved-can and will be held against you.

My last piece of advice is relatively simple. Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great heart”. I couldn’t have said it better. When navigating the treacherous waters of child-custody litigation, do not forget that children need love, happiness, and innocence of adult issues as much as they need food and water. It is easy to lose sight of this fact when angry at an ex-lover. Keep sight of what matters most: protecting your child from turmoil and shielding them from despair.

If you are involved in a child custody case that requires a robust knowledge base and formidable experience, I will gladly attempt to point you in the right direction. Be forewarned- simple answers to complex issues, particularly those involving child custody, are elusive and require a high level of competency. If you need just that, contact us anytime.

Matthew Poole is a single parent of an eight year-old boy, Lucas. He is well-acclimated to the various challenges that face single parents, both professionally and personally. His practice has been focused on child custody matters for 14 years as a parental advocate.

Parental Alienation Syndrome—Grounds for Custody Changes in Mississippi?

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

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.