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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Sex Offender Law & Divorce in Michigan

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Legal Actions for Adultery

The penalties for committing adultery vary widely from state to state. In California, adultery is not even a ground for divorce. However, at the time of publication, in South Carolina, adultery is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a jail sentence up to a year. Depending on where you live and how you choose to legally address the transgression, the court could either not hold your spouse responsible for straying or award you a monetary settlement for his infidelity.

What Are the Benefits of Legal Separation Vs. Divorce?

Legal separation and divorce are two options for married couples who wish to part ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 34 percent of marriage relationships ended in divorce as of 2011, making this an increasingly significant issue. Legal separation offers married couples with serious relationship issues an opportunity to separate, just as they would in a divorce, but without the legal finality provided by a divorce. This provides a number of benefits to spouses and families.

Can You Take Your Spouse to Court if You Are Still Married?

Disputes in a marriage can lead to divorce court or, by individual state laws, to another kind of civil court. States allow civil actions by one spouse against another under limited circumstances, and appeals courts have upheld this right even when a divorce action is ongoing. If the claim is alienation of affection, irreconcilable differences or other strictly marital issues, however, state laws direct the litigants to divorce court.

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