Understanding the Effects of Parental Alienation on Child Custody in Indiana

Parental alienation can prevent a child from having a meaningful relationship with a parent, cause psychological damage to the child, and create an array of issues with child custody. Many parents may be unaware of exactly what parental alienation is, how to recognize the signs, or the long term effects it can have on a child and the parent being alienated. Understanding the effects of parental alienation on child custody in Indiana is important and this blog discusses how to recognize it and the effects that it may have on the child and child custody. 

Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to turn the child against the other. The alienating parent may tell the child lies about the other, disclose information that should not be shared with a child, or tell the child that the alienated parent does not love or want them (Psychology Today). They may also interfere with the other parent’s time with the child, involvement in extracurricular activities, or education, and make derogatory remarks about the alienated parent in front of the child (Lecocq v. Owens, No. 21A-JP-2458 (Ind. App. Aug. 3, 2022)). This can lead to the child forming unjustified negative feelings about the alienated parent and the relationship deteriorating. According to Psychiatrist Dr. Richard Gardner, severe cases of parental alienation can cause a child to develop parental alienation syndrome, a childhood disorder which arises out of child custody disputes (BetterHelp). The disorder is not a diagnosable medical condition, however, but a result of the alienating parents manipulation of the child and the other parent. 

Some signs a parent might be alienating the other that may be noticed by the alienated parent or others close to the child include interference with parenting time and communication with the child, exclusion of the alienated parent from school functions and extracurricular activities, important decisions, and events involving the child, false allegations of child neglect or abuse against the alienated parent, and a change in the child’s behavior and attitude towards the alienated parent (LegalScoops). The child may become disrespectful, refuse to go with the alienated parent, criticize the target parent, or mimic the disparaging remarks of the alienating parent.   

Alienating parents generally fail to recognize the damage they may be causing the child by interfering with the relationship the child has with their other parent. In Sparks, Father revealed sensitive information about his and Mother’s divorce to the child. The appellate court noted, “Father's statements in the trial court and on appeal reflect his refusal to recognize that children may be significantly harmed by exposure to the intricacies of their parents' divorce proceedings and critical comments about the other parent.” (Sparks v. Sparks, No. 22A-DC-495 (Ind. App. Aug. 22, 2022)). Children with a parent who attempts to alienate them from the other parent can develop a confused sense of self-perception, an uncertain identity, lack of self-esteem, and deep insecurity (National Library of Medicine). 

The harm inflicted on a child by an alienating parent can not only have long lasting effects on the child’s mental health but may create many issues in child custody cases. Because parental alienation is not a widely accepted concept, accusations of alienation might be seen by a court as simply a tactic used by a vindictive parent to gain custody.  On the other hand, many courts, while perhaps not using the term “parental alienation” see a parent’s refusal to nurture a relationship between the child and their other parent as a reason not to grant that parent primary physical custody and/or legal custody. In Maddux, for example, the trial court and appellate court had differing views on Mother’s attempts to alienate Father. Mother repeatedly denied Father his parenting time and made numerous false allegations that Father had physically abused one of the children. The trial court granted custody to Mother, despite her clear intention at parental alienation. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision stating that, “…not only have [the children] been deprived of their relationship with Father but also have been relentlessly subjected to Mother's jaded opinions of him and her egregious and unsubstantiated accusations against him.” It further found that Mother had jeopardized her children's emotional health in attempting to settle a score with Father (Maddux v. Maddux, 40 N.E.3d 971 (Ind. App. 2015)). 

As parental alienation gains more scientific backing, more and more parents may find themselves losing custody due to their attempts at convincing their child that the other parent is a terrible person who does not love or care about them. If you are involved in a custody dispute where you have been accused of parental alienation or your child’s other parent is alienating your child against you, the experienced family law attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. can help. 

This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.


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