Help! My Ex Is Keeping My Kids from Me! What Can I Do?
(Parental Alienation and What You Can Do About It)
Parental alienation is a serious issue that can arise during a divorce or child custody dispute. It is the deliberate attempt by one parent to distance the child from the other parent. This can take many forms, from making derogatory comments about the other parent to preventing the child from having contact with them.
In California, parental alienation is recognized as a form of emotional abuse. It is not only detrimental to the child’s well-being, but it can also have legal consequences for the alienating parent. Those consequences can come about not just in the family law case, but also in a juvenile dependency case and, in extreme cases, in a criminal case for the alienating parent.
If you are dealing with parental alienation in California, it is important to understand your rights and options.
Legal Definition of Parental Alienation in California
In California, parental alienation is defined as “a consistent pattern of behavior by one parent that attempts to alienate the child from the other parent.” This behavior can take many forms, including:
- Making derogatory comments about the other parent in front of the child
- Interfering with the other parent’s visitation or communication with the child
- Refusing to co-parent with the other parent
- Falsely accusing the other parent of abuse or neglect
- Coaching the child to make false allegations against the other parent
- Engaging in behaviors that cause the child to feel guilty for having a relationship with the other parent
Legal Consequences of Parental Alienation in California
Parental alienation can have serious legal consequences in California. Here are two relevant statutes.
California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300(c), which justifies the Juvenile Court taking jurisdiction over a parent’s child, provides in pertinent part the following:
“A child who comes within any of the following descriptions is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court which may adjudge that person to be a dependent child of the court … The child is suffering serious emotional damage, or is at substantial risk of suffering serious emotional damage, evidenced by severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or untoward aggressive behavior toward self or others, as a result of the conduct of the parent or guardian or who has no parent or guardian capable of providing appropriate care. A child shall not be found to be a person described by this subdivision if the willful failure of the parent or guardian to provide adequate mental health treatment is based on a sincerely held religious belief and if a less intrusive judicial intervention is available.” (Emphasis added.)
California Penal Code Section 278.5, which provides in pertinent part, the following:
“(a) Every person who takes, entices away, keeps, withholds, or conceals a child and maliciously deprives a lawful custodian of a right to custody, or a person of a right to visitation, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for 16 months, or two or three years, a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both that fine and imprisonment.
(b) Nothing contained in this section limits the court’s contempt power.
(c) A custody order obtained after the taking, enticing away, keeping, withholding, or concealing of a child does not constitute a defense to a crime charged under this section.” (Emphasis added.)
If the court finds that one parent has engaged in parental alienation, it may modify custody and visitation orders to protect the child’s relationship with the alienated parent. In extreme cases:
- the family law court may even terminate the alienating parent’s custody rights;
- the juvenile court may step in and order the removal of your child from both parents’ custody; and,
- the criminal court may incarcerate the alienating parent (and possibly anyone who has assisted the alienating parent).
California courts take a child-centered approach to custody and visitation disputes. The court will always make decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child. If parental alienation is found to be detrimental to the child’s well-being, the court will take action to protect the child’s relationship with both parents.
What to Do If You Suspect Parental Alienation in California
If you suspect that your child’s other parent is engaging in parental alienation, it is important to take action to:
- Protect your child;
- Protect your relationship with your child;
- Preserve your rights; and,
- Ensure that the Court is aware of what is happening sooner rather than later so any harm that has been done, can be undone through the use of therapy quickly.
The first step is to document any instances of alienating behavior. Keep a journal of any derogatory comments made by the other parent, as well as any instances of interference with your visitation or communication with your child.
Next, speak to an experienced family law attorney. Your attorney can help you understand your legal options and guide you through the process of protecting your relationship with your child. Your attorney may recommend filing a motion with the court to modify custody or visitation orders, or to enforce existing orders.
In addition to seeking legal help, it is important to prioritize your child’s well-being. Be supportive of your child and maintain a positive relationship with them. Avoid making negative comments about the other parent, as this can further damage your child’s relationship with them. It can be difficult not to engage in the same type of behavior, allowing the alienating parent to control the narrative temporarily, but your child’s needs must be prioritized over your own ego and hurt feelings.
Parental alienation is a serious issue that can have long-term consequences for children and their relationships with their parents. If you suspect that your child’s other parent is engaging in parental alienation, it is important to take action to protect your relationship with your child. Speak to an experienced family law attorney in California to understand your legal options and take steps to ensure that your child’s best interests are being protected.
Let Us Help You
If you believe that you are being alienated from your children or are being accused of parental alienation, it is important that you take action quickly. Do not let uncertainty about your rights or your ability to protect your child and your relationship with your child prevent you from making the call. Call the Law Office of Erika A. Williams, a Professional Corporation at (855) 972-1644 or visit our Contact page today so we can discuss your options to ensure that you don’t miss valuable time with your children.
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