By: Curtis Wiberg
After many years of practicing custody law in Denver, I have seen hundreds of cases and many troubling situations. Despite seeing it all, at times, I am still shocked by some of the negative or hurtful positions parents embroiled in a custody battle might place their kids in. One of the more unfortunate occurrences in a divorce or custody case that involves children is when there is a case of parental alienation. The phrase refers to the action of one parent in deliberately undermining the child’s relationship with the other parent. “Alienation” can range from minor actions, like saying to a child “isn’t it more fun at my house,” to the extreme case of falsifying abuse claims against the other parent for the purpose of disrupting contact.
Parental alienation, if proven, is taken very seriously by Colorado family law courts and is considered as a form of emotional abuse. C.R.S. § 14-10-124 (1.5)(a)(VI) explicitly requires a court to consider a party’s ability to foster a positive relationship between a child and the other parent as one of many factors in determining parenting time and a child’s best interest. If a court determines that a party does not support the other party’s relationship with a child and takes that lack of support to the level of alienation, that alienating party can find that he or she is the one who is having parenting time curtailed or decision-making authority taken away.
Examples of alienating behavior include, but are not limited to, interrogating children about the other party’s caregiving, love life, habits, etc; putting down the other party; shutting out a party from information concerning the child’s health or school issues; discouraging or ignoring the other party’s attempts at communicating with the child by phone, text or Skype/Face-Time; being habitually late or difficult with parenting time exchanges; scheduling extra-curricular activities that conflict with the other party’s parenting time; denying parenting time or contact in violation of court orders; and falsifying claims of abuse.
For a parent who believes that the other party is committing acts of parental alienation, it’s imperative to request the court to appoint either a Child Family Investigator or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator to investigate the existence of alienation and report it to the court. Oftentimes, the offending parent’s hostility can be shown through angry text messages, e-mails, or voice mails. As such, it is important to retain all these communications if they occur.
If the alienation is occurring via denials of visitation, after the Court has ordered a parenting plan, the other parent can file a motion to enforce parenting time under C.R.S. 14-10-129.5 and have the court enter orders to stop the alienation through various means including contempt, financial sanctions, make-up parenting time, or even a modification of the parenting plan that permanently changes the plan to the detriment of the alienating parent.
Ultimately, despite whatever anger, jealousy, history, or blame may exist between parties that result in the breakdown of a marriage, if the other parent is a fit and proper parent, there is no justification in putting the child in the middle of the divorce via parental alienation. An alienating parent may feel they are getting back at the other party. However, what they are really doing is hurting the child. If that behavior is discovered by the court, the alienating parent might find him/herself on the outside looking in. In situations in which you have a concern about the other party intentionally trying to negatively impact the relationship between you and your child, contacting a Colorado custody attorney is an advisable first step in figuring out how to deal with the problem.