by J. Tyler Cox
Pretty regularly at our office, we have child custody cases where one parent continually makes derogatory remarks about the other parent in front of their child. This is one of the worst things a parent can do when wanting to obtain custody, especially when the child is not old enough to legally have a preference with which parent he/she would rather live with. What many parents do not realize is that a parent has an inherent duty to foster and facilitate the relationship between their child and that child’s other parent. Disparaging the other parent can not only hurt their case in the eyes of a chancellor, but it can also adversely affect the child. From a chancellor’s perspective, belittling the other parent in an effort to negatively impact the child’s relationship with them is wholly improper and unacceptable.
When the “brainwashing” of a child by one parent gets so bad that it manipulates the child into disliking or not wanting a relationship with the other parent, there is more than likely a case of parental alienation. Parental alienation is a term used by child custody lawyers and child psychologists alike to describe what happens in situations where a parent has made conscious efforts, by negative words or actions, to upset their child’s relationship with the other parent. An example of this would be where a mother has spoken badly about a father, made derogatory remarks about him, or even lied about him to the child, all in order to alter that child’s feelings towards his dad, so that the child would not want to live with him.
Other examples of behaviors that can cause parental alienation include one parent discussing details of the parent’s relationship, scheduling the child’s activities during the other parent’s visitation time, not informing the other parent the times of those activities in order for them not to attend, denying the other parent important school and medical records, and giving the child ultimatums encouraging them to pick one parent over the other. This type of behavior has major consequences, and if not addressed as soon as possible, can permanently destroy a child’s relationship with their parent. A child’s mind is very susceptible, especially to a person that they instinctively trust – as they would a parent. Prolonged exposure to this type of influence deteriorates little by little any chance of a relationship they might have had with their mother or father.
In years past, parental alienation issues could only be brought up when there was a non-disparagement clause in the custody order. This prevented parental alienation from being any more than a contempt issue. Now, however, chancellors in Mississippi consider disparagement through the parenting-skills factor under Albright. With disparagement now being a consideration in Albright, it constitutes a material change sufficient for modification of custody.
Isolating a parent from their child is serious, and in the end, it does more damage to the child than it does to the other parent. To put it plainly, parental alienation is a form of child abuse. Chancellors know this, that is why any hard evidence that a mother or father is molding their child’s emotions negatively toward the other is met with extreme prejudice. Absent neglect and endangerment, nothing can kill a parent’s chances of being awarded custody more than harmfully reshaping their child’s relationship with their mom or dad. If you believe that this is happening to you, or someone you may know, call an attorney to discuss your legal options.
If you have any questions or comments, let us know at (228)224-6781 or editor@thegazebogazette. Thanks for reading!