Parental alienation is a term used in psychology to describe a syndrome where one parent actively alienates the children from the other parent.
Parental alienation syndrome sounds obvious, terrible, and common. The problem is “parental alienation syndrome” is also extremely broad. Anything from muttering about a child’s parent under your breath to outright denial of parenting time could be interpreted as being a syndrome of “parental alienation syndrome.”
The syndrome is probably not as important as the individual behaviors of a parent and their effects.
In Illinois, judges don’t become psychologists and begin analyzing syndromes. Instead the court merely turns to the Illinois statutes and the relevant case law. Illinois case law specifically advises courts to ignore the term “parental alienation syndrome.” In re Marriage of Bates, 212 Ill.2d 489, 289 Ill.Dec. 218, 819 N.E.2d 714 (Ill. 2004)
The Illinois statutes require parents to exchange proposed parenting plans in the hopes that parents will agree on a final compromise with the help of mediation if necessary.
If mediation is unsuccessful then an Illinois court will appoint a third attorney (a guardian ad litem) to investigate the parenting issues in the divorce and report recommendations to the court.
The Illinois divorce court will then consider the the guardian ad litem’s recommendations and all evidence presented to the court. The court will then issue its own court-ordered parenting plan which the parties will be governed by.
A Chicago, Illinois divorce court will take into consideration “the willingness and ability of each parent to fascilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.” (emphasis mine) 750 ILCS 5/600(c)
This is a cumbersome process 95% of parents in Illinois come to a complete agreement regarding parenting time and parental responsibilities…at least at the beginning.
In considering whether parental alienation has happened after a Chicago, Illinois divorce, the divorce court will first look to the allocation of parenting time and parenting responsibilities to consider whether anyone has violated the order.
Most parenting plans have strong language requiring parents to foster and encourage the children’s relationship with the other parent. If a parent is not fostering and encouraging the parent-child relationship with their ex-spouse, then they are automatically in violation of a court order and are, therefore, subject to sanctions and/or contempt of court.
If one parent’s actions are so subtle but also effective enough to both not violate the current court orders and qualify as possible parental alienation, then a Chicago, Illinois divorce court can appoint a psychiatrist to investigate the parents, the children and the overall situation itself. This psychiatrist then issues a report to the court.
Psychiatrists and their reports are expensive. Inevitably, one parent does not agree with the recommendations of that first appointed psychiatrist and, therefore, hires their own psychiatrist.
A full trial is required to properly differentiate between the two psychiatrists’ findings and conclusions.
This is an extremely expensive way of determining parenting time. Especially when one considers the fact that courts will almost never completely eliminate parenting time for one parent based on a psychiatrist’s recommendation alone.
In fact, if a psychiatrist recommended completely eliminating a parent from a child’s life, that would be sufficient evidence to disregard all of the psychiatrist’s other recommendations.
Having a child in therapy is probably sufficient action to diminish any actual parental alienation which may be occurring.
The accusation of parental alienation is a serious one that few attorneys would make the hallmark of their client’s divorce case. Proceed with caution if there is parental alienation and, instead, try your best to create a comprehensive parenting plan that requires both parents to work together in forming a strong bond with the children no matter what.
The author, Russell Knight, is a divorce lawyer in Chicago, Illinois.