When couples in Texas decide to divorce or separate, it’s almost always better if they are able to work together to reach a fair agreement on parenting issues, including child custody and support. However, in some cases, parents’ vindictive behavior towards one another could cause severe emotional harm to the children involved. In other instances, abusive former spouses may attempt to manipulate the situation to perpetuate further abuse even after the divorce is finalized. Indeed, abuse may be a factor when divorcing parents are unable to reach an agreement to divide parenting time.
Some advocates are concerned that abusive former spouses are using claims of parental alienation in order to further perpetuate control over their families and former partners. Parental alienation syndrome was first coined in the 1980s to describe the effects of bitter divorces on children whose parents kept them away from their other parent or lied to them in order to sour the relationship. However, it can be difficult to prove or disprove claims of parental alienation and for judges to differentiate those claims from the actions of an abusive parent.
One study showed that fathers accused of abuse, including child abuse, who accused mothers of alienation in return, won 72 percent of their cases. This might not be surprising if the allegations of abuse were taken to be false. However, when judges held both allegations to be credible, the abusive fathers won all of their child custody cases.
Domestic violence advocates have urged that substantiated abuse claims be taken more seriously, noting that alienation complaints are not a counter to proven incidents of abuse. People fleeing abusive situations may face real challenges in court, and a family law attorney might be able to work with them to present a strong case for child custody that puts the interests of the children first.