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Illegal Alienation?

Most Arizona Family Law attorneys have dealt with the problem of parental alienation, the estrangement between one parent and a child caused by the behavior of the other parent, but there are no easy solutions for it. It's something of cliché that children often get the worst of the fallout when a family breaks up, but now some attorneys and legislators are suggesting making a specific law against the practice of engaging in alienating behavior which would require courts to reduce the decision making authority or parenting time (or both) of a parent who engages in gatekeeping behavior.

Simply put, alienating behavior or "gatekeeping" occurs when one parent unfairly influences a child, perhaps by making negative remarks about the other parent in the presence of a child, or by purchasing excessive gifts for the child or refusing to discipline the child, making the other parent bear the burden of saying "no" all the time. No matter what means are used, though, all too often the result is that the child gets a warped view of the other parent and the relationship between them suffers. To be clear, the "gatekeeping" is the behavior by one parent with the intent to damage the relationship between the child and the other parent. The "alienation" (or estrangement between a parent and child) is the effect of the gatekeeping behavior.

Recently, a California family law attorney posted this proposal for a new law on a popular family law news blog (Read the full article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/b-robert-farzad/are-specific-child-custody-gatekeeping_b_5666848.html):

"If the Court finds substantial evidence that a parent within the last 24 months has engaged in restrictive gatekeeping by unreasonably restricting contact with a minor child contrary to the child's best interest with the intent to interfere with the other parent's lawful contact with the child and that conduct has resulted in harm to the other parent's relationship with the minor child, there is a rebuttable presumption that an award of sole or joint physical or legal custody of a child to the gatekeeping parent is detrimental to the child's best interest."

While it's easy to understand the motivation behind proposals like these, there is also the potential for abuse. Here in Arizona, there were so many false or unsubstantiated claims of child abuse in family law cases that the lawmakers created A.R.S. 25-403(A)(11), specifically directing family court judges to consider false reports when making custody decisions. A law directed at preventing or punishing parental alienation could easily have the same problem; even good parents sometimes let the stress of a court battle get the better of them and because the term is so broad and difficult to define, it would be a powerful weapon for an unscrupulous party eager to accuse the other parent of wrongdoing just to gain a litigation advantage.

Fortunately, Arizona Family Law attorneys have experience dealing with this issue and have developed ways to inform the court that a party is trying to unfairly influence a child. Family court judges understand what's at stake and will usually consider such misbehavior when making their rulings. If you need help in a family law case with a parent who is trying to unfairly influence your children, please contact our skilled Family Law attorneys for a free 30 minute consultation.

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