Children of divorce most want to maintain a healthy and strong relationship with both of their parents, and also to be shielded from their parents’ conflict. But some parents use children as a “bargaining chip” throughout the divorce process. Some parents, in an effort to be viewed as the “chosen” parent, foster an environment in which their children are forced to chose sides. In more extreme situations, children are manipulated and actually encouraged to reject the other parent. These parents manipulate and encourage their children to reject, resist contact, or show extreme reluctance to spend time with the other parent.
By now, most of us have heard about the controversial custody case out of Michigan where family court judge, Judge Lisa Gorcyca, sent three juvenile siblings to a detention center after refusing to visit with their estranged father. The children were deemed in contempt of a court by disobeying her order to have a “healthy relationship with your father.” Judge Gorcyca blamed the mother for poising the children’s attitude toward the father, even suggesting that the had mother brainwashed her children. Ultimately, Judge Gorcya held the mother responsible for alienating the children from their father.
Parental alienation can certainly play a role in a court’s decision regarding custody. Pennsylvania courts determine the best interest of the child by considering a number of factors, including which party is more likely to encourage or permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other party.
In another significant custody case earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that a trial court’s determination that a child’s mother would be awarded primary physical custody of the parties’ daughter was unreasonable, since the trial court’s consideration of the statutory custody factors actually weighted heavily in favor of granting primary custody to the father. In, W.C.F. v. M.G., 2015 Pa. Super LEXIS 231 (PA. Super Ct. 2015), the court found that parental alienation was a critical issue, noting that the father was more likely to promote the child’s relationship with the mother rather than the mother would with the father stating, “mother is not likely to encourage or permit frequent and continuing contact between father and child.” Furthermore, the court concluded that while shared physical custody was feasible both geographically and financially, “awarding primary physical custody of father might be of significant benefit to the child at this time, and might make mother realize that her lack of cooperation and attempts at alienation will not be rewarded by this court.”
Not only does parental alienation result in the child’s emotional rejection of the targeted parent, but also the loss of a capable and loving parent from the life of that child. Every child has a fundamental right and need to maintain a loving relationship with both parents, irrespective of divorce.