Father? What Father? 1
Parental Alienation and its Effect on Children
By Chaim Steinberger
There is no doubt that every child needs “frequent and regular” contact with both parents to develop in a psychologically healthy manner.2 A custodial parent is, therefore, obligated by law to ensure the continued relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.3
The Appellate Division, Second Department, explained why frequent contact is needed between them: Only [with frequent contact] may a non-custodial parent provide his child with the guidance and counsel youngsters require in their formative years. Only then may he be an available source of comfort and solace in times of his child’s need. Only then may he share in the joy of watching his offspring grow to maturity and adulthood.
. . . Indeed, so jealously do the courts guard the relationship between a non-custodial parent and his child that any interference with it by the custodial parent has been said to be “an act so inconsistent with the best interests of the children as to, per se, raise a strong probability that the [offending party] is unfit to act as custodial parent.”
. . . The decision to bear children, [moreover], entails serious obligations and among them is the duty to protect the child’s relationship with both parents even in the event of a divorce. Hence, a custodial parent may be properly called upon to make certain sacrifices to ensure the right of the child to the benefits of visitation with the noncustodial parent. The search, therefore, is for a reasonable accommodation of the rights and needs of all concerned, with appropriate consideration given to the good faith of the parties in respecting each other’s parental rights.4
Nevertheless, a twelve-year study commissioned by the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association of over 1,000 divorces found that “parental alienation,” the programming of a child against the other parent occurs regularly, sixty percent (60%) of the time, and sporadically another twenty percent.5
1. Although alienation might be employed by either parent, because it is more likely to be employed by mothers than by fathers, [see Clawar & Rivlin, Id., Ch. VII, (The Female Factor: Why Women Programme More Than Men)], and because mothers are more likely to obtain custody than fathers (see Brandes, 4 Law and the Family New York §§ 1:2 and 1:3), for ease of reading, this article will at times refer to the target parent in the masculine gender and the alienating parent in the feminine.
2. Daghir v. Daghir, 82 A.D.2d 191, 193 (2d Dep’t, 1981), aff’d, 56 N.Y.2d 938 (1982).
3. Id., 82 A.D.2d at 195.
4. Id., 82 A.D.2d at 193–195 (citations omitted).
5. Stanley S. Clawar & Brynne V. Rivlin, Children Held Hostage:
Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children, American Bar
Association Section of Family Law (1991), Table 17 at 180.