There is much discussion among parental alienation experts in both mental health and law about possible changes in the family law system to assure alienated families do not continue to fall through the cracks. They point out how the system of awarding custody to one parent or the other in an adversarial “winner-take-all” system uses the residency of the children and awarding of child support as prizes in the custody battle. This pitting of parents against one another creates an atmosphere that breeds alienating behavior. An alternative approach based on the following principles could change this.
1. Based on scientific knowledge of child development, we know it is in the best interest of the children to have a relationship with both parents.
2. It is the responsibility of the court to assure the fitness of each parent, especially when parents cannot agree on a parenting plan. Fit parents must be capable of actively supporting the relationship of the children and the other parent.
3. Children are too young to choose. Those under the age of 18 have not yet achieved enough brain development or attained a high enough maturity level to be burdened with having to choose the parent with whom they want to live.
4. When equal parenting time is the standard for a parenting plan, the issue of child support can be diminished, as evidenced by Kentucky’s 11% reduction in custody lawsuits after passing their shared parenting law. When parents internalize the expectation of equal responsibility, adversarial custody battles over child support should decrease. This still leaves the flexibility for divorcing couples to negotiate an individualized plan they can agree to, based on their circumstances. It is critical, however, to assure that included in the law are provisions for parental alienation cases to be immediately identified by professionals who are well trained and experienced in identifying PA so the law does not inadvertently force alienated children to live with a parent who is an alienator.
Such a revised system would require the availability of both mental health and legal professionals who are cross-trained and experienced in parental alienation and who have a clear understanding of its dynamics. It would also need to assure the availability of trained professionals for families of all income levels. With equal parenting time reducing the financial battles, the need for costly professional services could be expected to decrease. It would be imperative to assure that an effective assessment plan is in place to immediately identify alienation cases, so alienated children are not forced into spending half of their time with an alienating parent while waiting for a future court date or a lengthy assessment period.
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