Even the issue of how to define Parental Alienation is hotly contested. As reported in a recent AP article, Psychiatric experts asses parental alienation, the American Psychiatric Association is debating whether or not to include "parental alienation syndrome" as a mental disorder in its updated catalog of disorders. The debate centers around whether the concept is real and all to common or whether it is overused. For example, according to some domestic violence advocates parental alienation is a concept used by abusers to place blame on the other parent and take focus off the abuse.
Regardless of whether you believe parental alienation should be recognized as a mental disorder, it is obvious that any activity intended to turn your child against their other parent is not in the best interest of the child. Even worse, it is not even an effective tactic because any alienating comments to your child are more likely to hurt you in a custody case than help you. As one Judge in the Plymouth Probate & Family Court is fond of stating: "I award custody of children to the parent best able to share with the other parent."
Avoiding parental alienation is one of the reasons that all divorcing parents in Massachusetts are required to take part in the Parents Apart Program, which is designed to inform parents about the difficulties children face in a divorce and how to avoid forcing that conflict on your children.
In addition, at Kelsey & Trask, P.C. we include in the majority of our Agreements relating to children the following language:
"Both Parties are prohibited from discussing (and from allowing others to discuss), in any manner, any Court proceedings with or within earshot of the children.
Both parties are prohibited from disparaging either parent and/or their significant others (and from allowing others to disparage either parent and/or their significant others) with or within earshot of the children."
Of course, putting this in an Agreement doesn't necessarily prevent parents from making comments or taking actions that could alienate the children from the other parent. But at least adding this provision is one more reminder to parents that they shouldn't involve their children in the divorce process or expect their children to be able to handle discussions about adult emotions due to the divorce. In the end it's up to parents to put their children's well-being above their desire to hurt their ex-spouse. As you will hear many divorce attorneys and judges ask: Do you love your kids more than you hate your ex?