Alienation in Family Law

By Nichole Hoskins

When it comes to families, the quality of the relationships between relatives can mean the difference between happy and unhappy ones. When it comes to family law, preserving relationships and addressing the people who would try to damage them is one of the law's most important functions. When alienation is present, it causes a rift within a family that can result in lasting pain and anguish. Whether the alienation occurs between spouses or between parents and children, laws exist to help families repair the damage caused to broken relationships.

Alienation of Affection

In 2010, a jury in North Carolina awarded a woman $9 million in a lawsuit filed against the woman she claimed stole her husband. In seven states, -- Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah -- a spouse can sue in civil court for what is called alienation of affection. Alienation of affection is the intentional act of discouraging a person from maintaining their marital relationship or willfully diverting a person's love, affection and attention away from his or her spouse. Cases of this kind are frequently brought against mistresses and paramours after a marriage ends in divorce. To succeed in an alienation case against an extramarital lover, spouses must prove that they were happily married, that the other spouse's affection was alienated from them, and that the alienation was caused by the actions of the third party.

Parental Alienation

Similar in nature to alienation of affection, parental alienation occurs when divorced or separated parents take steps to damage the relationship between their child and the other parent. This damage can be caused through words or actions that present a negative image of the other parent, which the child accepts to be true. Examples of behavior that could be considered parental alienation include telling the child that the other parent has no interest in visitation with the child, when actually the other parent is working or ill; calling the other parent names in front of the child; telling the child that the other parent is responsible for breaking up the family; and making the child choose between parents.

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Child Custody

In child custody cases where parental alienation is alleged, the negative behavior of the parent causing the alienation can have an impact on the court's custody decision. Family courts consider what is in the best interests of the children. Under Ohio family law rules, for example, the court evaluates the ability of each parent to encourage the sharing of love, affection and contact between the child and the other parent.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

When a parent continually engages in behavior that undermines his child's relationship with the other parent, it can have a significant impact on the child's psychological health. The effect of ongoing criticism of the other parent can lead to the development of Parental Alienation Syndrome in the child. The syndrome exists when a child exhibits certain characteristics including a lack of interest in visitation or communication with the other parent. According to the American Bar Association, this syndrome occurs in as many as 60 percent of divorce cases. By cooperating with each other and insulating the children from the conflict between the parents, adults can do what is in the best interest of the child and prevent the onset of Parental Alienation Syndrome.

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