When their parents divorced, the three daughters, ages 7, 13 and 15, spent two days a week with one and the remaining five days with the other. The following week, the time allotments for the parents were switched. The parents had joint legal custody, according to the divorce agreement, with the father, a professor, tabbed as the primary custodial parent.
The mother, an attorney, filed a petition seeking sole custody, arguing that the father was inhibiting the development of the girls; he returned fire, arguing that the mom had scheduled activities that included his parenting time, without his approval. He also asked for sole custody, arguing that his former spouse had alienated the children from him.
The case went before a New York judge who took a serious look at the concept of parental alienation – a term sometimes loosely or carelessly thrown around. The judge wrote that in order for parental alienation to exist, the alienating parent would have to intentionally damage “the reputation of the other parent in the children’s eyes.” He also decided that the parent alleging alienation must demonstrate that no “legitimate justification” existed for the actions.
The judge dismissed the father’s claim, stating that “There is no evidence that the mother solely intended that these activities alienate the daughters from their father.”
What does the judge’s decision mean? “Parental alienation” cannot include parental acts that, though damaging to the child’s relationship with the other parent, were not intended to alienate and in which the parent was not even aware of the possibility of alienation.
Some might consider Hon. Richard A. Dollinger’s standard too narrow or the bar it sets too high, but it is regardless a thoughtful decision that contributes much to the discussion of parental alienation. The case is J.F. v. D.F., 61 Misc.3d 1226(A), 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 51829[U].
If your divorce involves difficult child custody disputes that include parental alienation and related matters, contact an Ann Arbor law firm known for protecting children and parents both.