7 Ways To Prove Parental Alienation (So You Don’t Lose Your Child)

father with young son

If you are embroiled in a custody case where you are certain that the other parent is manipulating the child or children to say that they do not wish to see you, you are facing an all too common and very difficult situation. In fact a recent study of 1,000 custody cases in the United States found that parental alienation was present in approximately 30% of the cases. But, how do you prove in court that this is going on?

There are at least 7 ways that you can prove to the court that parental alienation by the other parent has been going on. However please be advised that because my experience is limited to practicing in the New York Courts, and laws differ in different states, this article pertains only to the New York Courts. Also this article is intended to just give some general information and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice has to based upon the specific facts of your particular situation.

I offer a free initial consultation by phone or video on custody cases.

Signs Of Parental Alienation And Ways To Prove It In A Custody Case

  1. The child has been making statements which are not age appropriate and indicate manipulation. In my practice, when I represented a 10 year old girl, she told me during an interview that her father “owes me child support” and complained that he only takes her “window shopping”.
  2. A child may exhibit behaviors that are consistent with parental alienation, such as extreme acting out during visits or withdrawing from the other parent when there is no reasonable explanation for this behaviour. If this behaviour takes place during visits which are supervised by a licensed social worker, the social worker can testify as to the inappropriate behavior and perhaps even that the social worker was concerned that parental alienation was taking place. Licensed social workers, at least in New York, are allowed to make mental health diagnoses in certain situations.
  3. The parent or a relative or family friend may testify as to changes in the child’s behavior or attitude that coincide with the other parent’s behavior, especially any overt attempts by the other parent to undermine the relationship.
  4. A full forenisc evaluation by a trained forensic psychologist may comprise the closest thing to definitive proof of parental alienation.
  5. An independent child psychologist or therapist who is treating the child may diagnose the child with parental alienation syndrome. This is rare, however, as it is almost always the custodial parent who is able to alienate the child, and the custodial parent chooses the treating psychologist. Typically the treating psychologist or therapist usually develops a strong relationship with that parent.
  6. In very rare situations, the child may be examined at a Child Advocacy Center (CAC). Child Advocacy centers are places where a team of psychiatrists or psychiatrists, and social workers who have special training interview the child to determine if the child has been teh victim of child abuse or neglect. Sometimes the interviews are conducted by police detectives. The interviews are videtaped. Years ago I represented two very young boys. The mother was making various allegations against the father, and when I interviewed the children, I suspected that the mother was coaching the children. The mother took the child to several different hospitals and CAC’s. None believed the allegations, and I learned that one center was considering calling the case in to the Child Neglect Hotline because they believed that the children were being negatively affected.
  7. Even without a forensic evaluation or any expert testimony it is posssible to convince the judge at trial that parental alienation was taking place. This approach requires a very skilled and experienced attorney who can marshall all the evidence and present a compelling case.

When You Absolutely Need a Forensic Evaluation

Sometimes an experienced Child Custody lawyer can tell that it is going to be very difficult to persuade the judge that parental alienation is taking place. In some cases even though parental alieantion is quite obvious, a seasoned child custody lawyer will be able to tell that the judge is very resistant to changing custody, and sometimes changing custody is the only practical way to deal with the situation.

Also, under the current New York Court rules, attorneys for the child or children are required to advocate the child or children’s expressed preferences in most situations which involve children over a certain age and maturity. They are only allowed to “subsitute judgment” and advocate for the child or childrens’ best interests rather than their expressed wishes in some special circumstances. If, however, there is a full forensic evaluation where the report indicates that parental alienation exists, the attorney for the child may be more inclined to substitute judgment.

Most judges, and even most appellate courts, do give a significant weight to the recommendations of attorneys representing the child or children.

What To Do If You Can’t Get A Forensic Evaluation

In general, the decision about whether to order a forensic evaluation is in the sound discretion of the trial court. If you make a motion for one, and the motion is denied, you may be able to take an appeal from the judge’s order if your papers document the need for the evaluation.

Sometimes the problem is that your client cannot afford the cost of a full forensic evaluation. In Family Courts, judges will sometimes order an evaluation by Mental Health Services. Mental Health Service sis an arm of the court has offices in all of the Family Courts and is free. In the past MHS was limited to doing evaluations in child neglect cases, but in more recent years they have been taking custody and visitation cases as well. The clinicians are licensed pschologists, and I have found that, at least in Manhattan, they are experienced and qualified.

In addition to being free, they typically work much faster than independent forensic psychologist or psychiatrists, and can provide a report much quicker, sometimes within 60 days, whereas independent forensic psychologists can take from 3 months up to a year in some circumstances to provide a report.

Some Courts have also allowed very experienced forensic social workers to do reports which are similar in most respects to reports done by forensic psychologists, although they are shorter and do not include results of psychological testing.

The Court Can Order Forensic Evaluations In The Middle Of A Custody Trial

Although the trial Court in general has discretion whether or not to order a forensic evaluation, this discretion is not absolute, and can be reversible error in situations whre there is domestic violence, or where a party suffers from drug use, or serious mental health issues. This evidence may not be available until the middle of trial, and there are many reported appellate cases where the Judge either decided during the trial to order an evaluation or was reversed for failing to do so.

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