Some New Jersey parents who are ending their marriages may have heard of the concept of “parental alienation” and be concerned about whether it might affect their own efforts to get custody of their children. “Parental alienation” is the idea that one parent might deliberately turn their child against the other parent. This could include allegations of child abuse in an effort to make that parent lose custody.
However, the concept is controversial. Medically, it is not considered a recognized mental disorder. Legally, courts are divided on how common it is. Some legal observers are concerned that just reporting child abuse can result in the parent who is making the allegation losing custody. There is also concern that different judges may hear the same set of facts and interpret them differently. One pilot study found that in 80 percent of the parental alienation cases examined, mothers who had accused their estranged spouses of child abuse lost custody of their children. The researcher responsible for the study said she feared that courts were punishing mothers who reported abuse.
One man, who is now an advocate for abused children and works with organizations like Safe Kids International and The Women’s Coalition, was returned to a father he says was abusive after his mother lost custody. With her help, he ran away and spent more than a year and a half in hiding.
Charges of parental alienation can be devastating for a parent and child who report abuse as can the experience of being falsely accused of such behavior. Parents in either situation may want to speak to an attorney about how they might respond if it is raised during a divorce hearing.