By: Douglas B. Dougherty, Attorney At Law
I. Parental Alienation is Relevant to Child Custody Decisions
In considering a child custody issue, a court must consider evidence of parental alienation. In determining the best interest of a child, a court must consider all relevant factors. R.C. 3109.04(F)(1). Attempts by one parent to destroy a child’s relationship with the other parent are certainly relevant to a determination of a child’s best interest.
It is the public policy of the State of Ohio for both parents to have full involvement in a child’s life where appropriate. The Ohio Supreme Court recently observed:
“The best interest of a child encompasses not only the home environment, but also the involvement of both parents. In today’s society that fully admits the need for parenting by both parents.
Each parent should have full involvement in a child’s life where possible and desired by the parent.”
Davis v. Flickinger (1997), 77 Ohio St. 3d 415, 419.
Various courts of appeal have also recognized this public policy. The Athens County Court of Appeals has noted that public policy favors a child’s maintaining a close and on-going relationship with both parents. Cordon v. Gordon (October 19, 1987), Athens App. No. 1334. The Pike County Court of Appeals has noted that children need to know both parents love them. Beekman v. Beekman (1994), 96 Ohio App. 3d 783. The Beekman court also observed that each parent has a duty to foster and encourage a child’s love and respect for the other parent. Id.
II. Parental Alienation is Harmful to Children
Attempts by one parent to alienate a child from the other parent are harmful to the best interest of the child. In Davis, the Ohio Supreme Court observed:
“When one parent begins to cut out another parent, especially one that has been fully involved in that child’s life, the best interest of the child is materially affected.”
Davis supra at 419.
Various courts of appeal have recognized the harms that result from parental alienation. The Athens County Court of Appeals has noted that “systematic interference” with visitation rights injures a child and deprives the child of “nurturing, support and companionship” from the other parent. Holm v. Smilowitz (1992), 83 Ohio App. 3d 757, at 777.
The Pike County Court of Appeals has commented on the extent of harm that a child may suffer when one parent attempts to alienate the child from the other parent. The Beekman Court observed:
“It is the duty of each parent to foster and encourage the child’s love and respect for the other parent, and the failure from that duty is as harmful to the child as is the failure to provide food, clothing, or shelter. Perhaps it is more harmful because no matter how well fed or well clothed, a child cannot be happy if he or she feels unloved by one parent.
Id. At 789 (emphasis added to original).
Psychological and sociological literature clearly documents the specific harms that can occur when one parent has alienated a child from the other parent. See Richard A. Gardner, The Parental Alienation Syndrome (1992); David Popenoe, Life Without Father (1996).
III. Examples of Parental Alienation Behavior
Parental alienation encompasses many types of inappropriate behaviors. The Ohio Legislature has specifically recognized and condemned several types of parental alienation behavior in the statute defining the best interest of the child. R.C. 3109.04(F)(1). Specifically, the statute recognizes that a parent should not continuously and willfully deny the other parent his/her right to visitation. R.C. 3109.04(F)(1)(i). Similarly, the statute recognizes that a parent should honor and facilitate the other parent’s visitation rights. R.C. 3109.04 (F)(1)(f).
The concept of parental alienation goes beyond the mere recognition and enforcement of visitation rights. Indeed, an alienating parent may allow all visitation to occur, but may actively attempt to destroy a child’s relationship with the other parent in many other ways. Ohio courts have recognized and condemned many types of alienation behavior other than mere denials of, or interference with, visitation rights.
The Ohio Supreme Court has commented on several types of alienation behavior. The Davis court noted that a parent should not engage in behavior that increases hostility and frustrates cooperation between the parents. Davis supra at 417, 419-420. Similarly, a parent should not file an unfounded motion to terminate the visitation rights of the other parent. Id. at 419.
Numerous Ohio appellate courts have condemned various types of alienation behavior. The Franklin County Court of Appeals has unanimously noted that a court may consider which parent is more likely to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact with the other parent. Klamforth v. Klamforth (April 9, 1996), Franklin App. No. 95 APF 10-1396; see Stevens v. Stevens (February 10, 1997), Preble App. No. CA96-07-010. Conversely, a court may consider whether a parent has attempted to turn the child against another parent. Grant v. Grant (July 21, 1989), Wood App. No. WD-88-29. Specifically, a court may consider if a parent has told a child that the other parent may harm or even kill the child. Id.
A court may consider whether a parent has demeaned another parent in the presence of a child. Holm supra; Stevens supra. A court may also consider whether a parent has encouraged a child to be disobedient and disrespectful regarding the other parent. Beekman supra. A court may also consider whether a parent has talked to a child about the litigation. Grant supra.
A court may consider whether an alienating parent has attempted to involve third parties. Grant supra. A court may also consider whether a parent’s parents (that is, a child’s grandparents) are also involved in alienation behavior. Beekman supra. A court may consider whether a parent has made unfounded allegations of abuse. Holm supra; Beekman supra; Barton v. Dean (February 20, 1990), Madison App. No. CA89-08-013.
Finally, a court may consider whether there is any evidence indicating that an alienating parent will stop his behavior in the future. Stevens supra.