parental alienation syndrome

Previously, we blogged about a trial court opinion that allowed a parent to seek damages for interference with custody/parental alienation.  In fact, we noted the conflicting trial court opinions released in the last year or so, one of which (in Hudson County) allowed a suit for intentional infliction of emotional distress in these matters, and another (in Morris County) which denied this relief for failing to state a claim.The Appellate Division weighed in on the Morris County case on May 3, 2010, affirming Judge Rand’s decision to dismiss the case in Segal v. Lynch.  This was a reported, thus precedential opinion.

While rejecting the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case based upon the "Heart Balm Act" which prohibited suits for interference with a marital relations, the Appellate Division nonetheless decided that the suit was barred based upon best interest and public policy considerations.  In doing so, the court held:

We acknowledge with equal force, however, that plaintiff’s cause of action raises profound questions of public policy concerning the propriety of permitting a parent to utilize a child’s loss of affection for him or her as grounds for civil liability against the other parent. On its face, such a cause of action has the potential to deteriorate into an abusive process; it can be wielded like a sword by an emotionally
distraught parent with little to no consideration of how the litigation will affect the child. Most alarming is the potential for great harm such a cause of action would pose to the child.

Our overarching consideration in all matters concerning children involved in the judicial system is "the best interests of the child." This principle is embedded in the doctrine of parens patriae, which authorizes the court to intervene when necessary to prevent harm to the child. Application of this principle to the case at hand leads us to one inexorable conclusion: plaintiff’s cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress must be barred as inimical to and irreconcilable with the best interests of the children
involved in this suit.


Aaron Weems, an associate in our Bucks County office and editor Fox Rothschild’s Pennsylvania Family Law Blog wrote an interesting entry entitled "Parental Alienation:  Programs Seek Solutions to Parent/Child Discord." 

The post discusses

Continue Reading Read the Post Entitled “Parental Alienation: Programs Seek Solutions to Parent/Child Discord” From Our Pennsylvania Family Law Blog

We have previously blogged on the issue of whether a separate tort cause of action exists for parental alienation.  At present there are at least  two cases in the Appellate Division addressing this issue.  In at least one of the cases, there is the direction that parental alienation should be dealt with in the family court, but not as a tort. 

In an unreported Appellate Division decision dated June 5, 2009 entitled Cole v. Cole one of the issues raised in an application was parental alienation on the mother’s part.  Specifically, the father alleged hat the mother seeks to alienate the children from him. He made a number of
general allegations that defendant was not abiding by the parenting schedule fixed by court order, including contentions that on multiple occasions defendant refused to allow court ordered parenting time or to permit the children to speak to him on the phone.  In her responsive certification, the mother denied  that she interferes with the father’s.   She stated that the children were "well, adjusted, healthy and normal, both physically and emotionally," although she did indicate problems with the children when they returned from defendant’s home.

The trial court did not change custody or even give a hearing.  The judge did find that certain additional parenting time should be considered for the father but denied his motion without prejudice.  The father appealed arguing among other things that the decision condoned the mother’s bad acts. The Appellate Division affirmed.  In doing so, there was a very interesting quote, as follows:

After a careful review of the record, we concur with the trial judge that defendant has not made a sufficient showing that changed circumstances have occurred and that "a genuine and substantial issue" of custody is present. Certainly, the hostility between these parents does not benefit the children. In a divorce setting, oftentimes the greatest test of a parent’s love for the children is to foster, in the face of adversity, the children’s love for and relationship with the other parent and to work with the other parent in a civil manner to benefit the children. It is a circumstance that forces a parent to dig deep into himself or herself and put that love for the children ahead of the bitterness felt toward the former spouse. However, defendant’s proposal to change custody will not accomplish that nor remedy any problem here.

If, indeed, parenting time is being denied, enforcement remedies should be sought. If defendant seeks additional parenting time, such as an additional weekday dinner as suggested by the trial judge, that relief can be requested from the trial court if the parties cannot agree. The record does not indicate that the circumstances here are so deleterious to the children that "a genuine and substantial issue" of custody
is present.

Continue Reading Possible Parental Alienation Given Short Shrift by Appellate Division