For many reasons, parents of children of divorce or paternity become estranged from their child. Psychological research shows that children are the most developed and have the best adult lives when they have a solid relationship with both parents. It may be a significant out-of-state move and/or re-marriage that has caused the split or, in some cases, it may be your child has been alienated by his or her other parent. This blog covers the major types of alienation and legal remedies you may utilize to re-establish the relationship.
In perhaps the most common scenario, a parent has simply drifted away from his or her child for a variety of reasons and, correspondingly, does not know the child at all (if the child was an infant) or is a person the child just has a familiarity with. While court and public policy support both parents having a significant relationship with his or her child, the over-arching concern of court is to meet the child’s best interests. Thus, simply going back to court and asking for parenting time is unlikely to be well received by the court because it is forcing the relationship on your child where it does not exist, with numerous negative implications for the child that makes this “forced” relationship not in the child’s best interest. Yet, every parent has a fundamental right to raise his or her child and have a parent-child relationship, which is one of the oldest rights recognized by the United States Supreme Court.1 With that said, with skilled legal counsel, you can meet all of these needs by seeking reunification therapy, which the court can order as a part of your request for parenting time if you put on the right evidence to establish this is necessary and in your child’s best interests. Reunification therapy is ordinarily done by a forensic clinical psychologist.
More complicated cases involve a parent actively alienating his or her child from the other parent. In these cases, it may be that a custody evaluation is needed. These are also conducted by a child forensic psychologist. Normally, this is apparent and upon the correct evidentiary showing, such a psychologist may recommend therapy for the alienating parent to work through the issues that are causing alienation and also recommend a reunification therapist to work with the child and the alienating parent’s therapist to rebuild the child’s relationship with the alienated parent. This is a complex problem that involves many legal steps, hearings, and carefully prepared evidence. However, with skilled counsel, the right mental health professionals, the family relations, including that with the child and the parent he or she is alienated from, can be returned to a healthy one. This is certainly not to say that both parents will like each other at the end of the process.
In more severe cases, the alienating parent may not stop his or her campaign of alienation. Sometimes this involves multiple allegations of neglect or abuse. When judicially ordered therapy fails, this leaves the alienated parent in the same place—alienated from his or her child. That said, it may be in consultation with your counsel and progress (or lack thereof) that you determine to gather and present the evidence that the alienation is not going to stop and this constitutes a basis for modification of custody to the non-alienating parent.2 There is significant statutory and caselaw to support this proposition. In this case, in consultation with counsel, the parent seeking to reestablish the relationship would file a custody modification action and seek sole physical (and perhaps legal) custody. The alienation is the significant change. Depending on the nature and severity of the alienation shown in the evidence, you may have to advocate for supervised visitation for the alienating parent.
Ultimately, the Indiana Paternity and Divorce Acts provide lawyers with a number of tools to address any need in any domestic case to assist a court in making orders that are in a child’s best interests. If you are alienated from your child, perhaps some of these legal tools can be used by skilled domestic counsel to help you to restore the relationship with your child. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle domestic cases of all types throughout the state. This blog is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. It is an advertisement.
- Troxel v. Granville (2010).
- Hanson v. Spolnik, 685 N.E.2d 71 (Ind.Ct.App.1997).