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What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation has several possible definitions, and is defined slightly differently among attorneys, child phycologists and other experts who study this topic. However, it is defined by the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization (PAAO) as:
“A set of behaviors that are harmful and damaging to a child's emotional and mental health. It generally involves the mental manipulation and/or bullying of the child to pick between their mother or father. These behaviors can also result in destroying a loving and warm relationship they once shared with a parent... Parental alienation deprives children of their right to be loved by and show love for both of their parents and extended family. Parental Alienation can occur in intact families, but is mostly seen in separated and divorced families.”
Parental Alienation often involves one parent making disparaging, negative and sometimes false statements to the child involved about the other parent in order to cause the child to foster negative feelings toward the other parent and cling more closely to the alienating parent. Parental alienation is more than just one or two instances of a parent making negative statements about the other parent, but involves systematic behavior of the alienating parent with the ultimate aim of causing the child to despise or shun the other parent just a much as the alienating parent does. Regardless of how parental alienation is defined, it has a negative impact not only on the parent who is the brunt of the alienation, but also on the children who are victimized by it.
Parental Alienation and Georgia Family Law
Although there is no formal definition of parental alienation in Georgia case law or Georgia statutory law, it is clear that Georgia courts recognize the importance of both parents playing a positive role in the lives of children. According to Georgia law, “It is the express policy of this state to encourage that a child has continuing contact with parents and grandparents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their child after such parents have separated or dissolved their marriage or relationship.” O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3 (d). Specifically, in considering the best interest of the child involved, which is of utmost importance when determining child custody in Georgia, the judge presiding over the custody matter will consider, among other factors “The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child.” O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3 (a)(3)(N).
Consequences of Parental Alienation
Georgia courts will take necessary steps to protect the best interest of the children involved if either parent is subjecting their child or children to parental alienation. Not only does parental alienation cause harm to the children involved, but it may also lead to the modification of child custody, especially if the alienating parent is the primary custodian.
See Petry v. Romo, 249 Ga. App. 99 (2001), In re M.E., 265 Ga. App. 412 (2004), and Weickert v. Weickert, 268 Ga. App. 624 (2004). In all three of the above cited cases, the Georgia Court of Appeals determined that the modification of child custody was appropriate in cases where the custodial parent had subjected the child or children involved to parental alienation. The scope and type of alienation found to be sufficient to result in modification varied, between false claims of physical and sexual abuse, disparaging remarks made by the custodial parent about the non-custodial parent, and refusals of visitation, and unjustified attempts to move the child out of the state and away from the non-custodial parent. Id.