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Allegations of parental alienation occur most often in high conflict divorces and they are usually a symptom of deeper issues within the family – intense marital conflict involving high levels of anger, hostility, and distrust between the parents, according to the Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC).
Parental alienation – when one parent harms the other parent’s relationship with their child – is a set of behaviors on the part of one parent, which may result in a child becoming alienated from the other parent. When alienating a child from another parent, the “alienating parent” often portrays them as dangerous, difficult, or unworthy of respect, and often goes out of their way to express these beliefs in the presence of the child. An alienating parent might consistently refuse to comply with a timesharing agreement, make the child feel guilty about spending time with the other parent or make false claims suggesting that the other parent has been abusive to the child.
One parent is not allowed to manipulate their child against the other parent. Under Florida law, anything intentionally said or done to hurt a child’s relationship with the other parent can be considered parental alienation. Although parental alienation is not a crime and will not usually result in criminal penalties in Florida, it can affect a family court’s decision regarding child custody. When determining custody and timesharing orders, Florida uses the best interest of the child standard, and determining which parent will be more likely to foster a positive relationship with the other is seriously considered when that standard is applied.
An alienated child usually expresses disproportionately negative feelings and behavior toward the alienated parent that is not consistent with their experience. Mild alienation might be shown in resistance toward visitation with the alienated parent; moderate alienation could involve negative or disparaging comments made by the child about the alienated parent; severe alienation might manifest in false allegations or actual fear of the alienated parent.
According to the FLAFCC, some of the most common behaviors displayed by children against the alienated parent include:
Two of the most severe consequences of alienation upon the child are fearfulness and low selfesteem, and these effects can continue into adulthood. Basically, the longer the alienation has persisted, the more damage to the parent-relationship, and treatment will be required to correct the situation.
In most circumstances, counseling can help to restore the relationship between a parent and a child, particularly in cases of parental alienation. Reunification therapy (RT) can be used to treat parental alienation, and treatment should begin as soon as the issue is identified. There is no guarantee of a successful outcome, however, reunification therapy can address some of the most troublesome conflicts between the parents, the issues between the child and the alienated parent, and work to heal the relationship the child has with both parents.
Reunification therapy typically requires a court order. However, before a Florida court orders it, the parents must attend mediation and come to an agreement that will facilitate a more positive relationship between the child and their estranged parent. The family court will then set guidelines and expectations for RT and appoint a qualified therapist to work with the child and the alienated parent.
In the initial RT assessment and during follow-up sessions, the therapist will identify the issues that are contributing to the estrangement and then develop a treatment plan for the affected family members. The child and parent will attempt to rebuild their relationship through counseling, usually by working on improving their communication techniques and repairing the parent-child trust that has been broken by the divorce or separation.
In some cases, it can be beneficial for each parent and the child to have individual therapy sessions, although joint sessions and contact visits between the child and the reunifying parent will generally take place when the therapists feel that the parties are ready. RT typically takes a minimum of eight to 12 weekly sessions, and the therapists will provide a final written report to the court at the end of the process.
If your child is experiencing parental alienation, your family needs competent legal representation to help rebuild this critical bond. As a former foster child and DCF investigator, Vero Beach Florida Attorney Susan Chesnutt focuses her entire law practice on child welfare. For legal guidance regarding parental alienation issues, contact our firm online or call 772-492-3330 today.