Some of the most difficult cases in family law involve parental alienation. A recent article in the Michigan Family Law Journal by attorney Ashish Joshi notes that “parental alienation is an unjustified campaign of denigration against a parent, often referred to as the ‘target parent.'”
Because target parents are often denied parenting time and visitation, they will ask the court to intervene. The court – often frustrated as well because its child custody orders are being ignored by the “favored parent” and the child in question – will assign a GAL (guardian ad litem) or LGAL (lawyer-guardian ad litem) to help sort matters out. The court’s hope is that the guardian will investigate, make dispute resolution recommendations and help the process “to move towards a collaborative model where divorcing parties treat each other with dignity and respect,” Joshi writes.
The guardian might well try to cool emotions and resolve unfounded allegations against the target parent by the child by bringing in a family therapist. Unfortunately, in cases of parental alienation, therapy doesn’t always lead to healthier relationships. In parental alienation, “the child’s rejection of the target parent is based on a false or unreasonable belief that is significantly disproportionate to the child’s actual experience.”
Courts are increasingly using GALs to help the court understand what is in the child’s best interests and LGALs to represent the child. Joshi notes that “while the LGAL’s duty is to the child, it does not translate into simply being a mouthpiece for the child’s wishes.” Instead, the LGAL’s “duty to first determine and then advocate for the child’s best interests.”
As you can see, this is a complex area of family law. We will have more on parental alienation and the guardian’s role in our next blog post.