How does parental alienation effect custody decisions?

Edrie Pfeiffer
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Edrie Pfeiffer, Bankruptcy & Divorce Attorney

One of the new terms being used with increased frequency in custody cases is parental alienation. This is where one parent, normally the parent who has primary custody of the children, is accused of taking actions that create barriers between the child and the other parent. These actions can range from bad-mouthing the other parent to the child or to others when the child can hear to refusing to allow the child to spend time with the other parent. When these actions reach extremes, the Court may grant custody of the child to the other parent. You have probably heard of some of the more outrageous claims of parental alienation where a parent has hidden a child to deny the other parent access to the child. These cases are frequently coupled with accusations of child abuse or other issues.

Most cases of parental alienation do not reach these extremes but courts are becoming much more sympathetic to the concerns of a parent when the other spouse has taken actions that will make visitation with the child difficult. One of the difficult situations where this can arise is when the custodial parent wants to move to another area with the child. Most custody orders require that a parent notify the court at least 30 days prior to any move with the child. This is to allow the non-custodial parent an opportunity to object to the move. If the non-custodial parent does object, the parent who desires to move must show the court why it is in the child's best interest to move. Most of the time, the move is based on the parent's interests. For example, the custodial parent may have remarried and the new spouse is required to move for their job. The custodial parent may have been offered a new job in another area or they desire to move closer to their family. The problem is that the move makes it more difficult for the non-custodial parent to maintain their relationship with the child. If the parents now live several hours apart, the non-custodial parent will not be able to have the child every other weekend and weeknight visits are definitely out. Many courts are finding that this is not in the child's best interests and refuse to allow the custodial parent to move the child. If the move is based on a new spouse or a new job, the custodial parent must make the difficult choice between their child and their new spouse or a better job. If they choose to move, the Court may transfer the custody of the child to the other parent.

If you are facing a custody dispute, contact Hampton Roads Legal Services at 757-276-6555. Attorney Edrie Pfeiffer will meet with you and discuss how to handle your case.

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