What Qualifies as Parental Alienation (Interference) in South Carolina?

parental alienation

In South Carolina, divorced parents are encouraged to maintain a strong relationship with their child and to support the child’s relationship with the other parent. Having a strong connection with both parents is almost always best for a child, and many parents do their best to encourage that connection. But sometimes, one parent will accuse the other of turning the child against them and may even use the words “parental alienation” or “parental interference” to describe that parent’s behavior. What is parental alienation? How do you prove it? And how does it affect South Carolina child custody matters?

Parental Alienation in Custody Cases: A Not-so-Brief History

While the phrase “parental alienation syndrome” was first coined about 25 years ago, the phenomenon has been noted for well over a hundred years as “pathological alignments,” “visitation refusal,” “parental alienation,” and most recently, “resist-refusal dynamics.” Whatever you choose to call it, It often unfolds in a similar way.

One parent (the favored parent) stops complying with the custody order or agreement and does not make the child available when it is the other parent’s scheduled time with the child. The parent who has been denied visitation (the target parent) objects. The favored parent claims that the child doesn’t want to see the other parent and is scared of them. The child may even echo these sentiments, refusing or resisting contact with the target parent. The favored parent is just doing what they must to protect their child and honor the child’s wishes.

The target parent claims that the favored parent is manipulating the child, “poisoning their mind” against the target parent so that the child will align with the favored parent. The less time the target parent gets to spend with the child, the weaker the relationship between parent and child grows, and the more the child is exposed to the favored parent’s anger, vengefulness, and lies.

Either situation is plausible. There are parents who are unstable or abusive, and from whom children need to be protected. There are also manipulative, personality-disordered parents who use their children as pawns in their quest to hurt an ex-partner, regardless of the harm to the children.

It can be difficult for a court to tell which parent is telling the truth. Often, the truth lies somewhere between the two parents’ positions. To the extent the favored parent is saying negative things to the child about the target parent, it is usually in private and almost impossible to prove. Furthermore, it can be difficult for a targeted parent to prove a negative: that there is no valid reason for their child to be refusing visitation.

Responding to Parental Alienation

A parent whose child refuses or resists visitation may claim that the other parent has caused “parental alienation syndrome” in their child. But it is important to know that PAS is not a recognized diagnosis in psychological or psychiatric circles. In addition, South Carolina family courts have not historically recognized this “syndrome.”

That doesn’t mean that alienating behavior isn’t real or problematic, only that it may be unhelpful to focus on whether there is a “syndrome” at play. Current research suggests that there are often multiple factors that lead to a child’s refusal to spend time with a parent. However, when refusal is unjustified, a primary factor is almost always a systematic attempt on the part of the favored parent to destroy or undermine the child’s relationship with the target parent.

Rather than devoting effort to trying to persuade the court of parental alienation syndrome, it is usually more productive to “speak the language” of South Carolina child custody, as family courts do. That means focusing on what is in “the best interest of the child,” and asking the court to order (or prohibit) certain specific behaviors. Judges are often more comfortable taking actions that they understand to be in a child’s best interests.

To that end, if you suspect parental interference by your child’s other parent, it can be helpful to focus on concrete steps, such as:

  • Requesting the involvement of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in the case to get an objective professional’s input on what would be in the child’s best interests;
  • Asking the court to order reasonable measures such as not scheduling activities during your scheduled time with the child, and requesting a specific visitation and telephone schedule;
  • Asking the court to order that communication between parents take place exclusively through an online medium such as com, which records and time-stamps all communications and does not allow them to be edited or deleted. Communications can be presented to the court as evidence if needed.
  • Documenting your own efforts to connect and spend time with your child, and the other parent’s consistent interference with those efforts.

Be Proactive to Prevent Parental Alienation

Unfortunately, when one parent is engaging in alienating behavior, it can drive a bigger and bigger wedge between the other parent and the child. Sometimes in retrospect, an adult child will realize they were manipulated by one parent and seek out a relationship with the other, but often a rift between parent and child becomes permanent. In any case, it is best to be proactive as soon as you are aware of alienating behavior by the other parent such as:

  • Sharing information about the marriage or divorce with the child;
  • False accusations of abuse;
  • Leaving it up to the child, rather than the court order, as to whether visitation will take place;
  • Not allowing the child to communicate privately with you, or monitoring your phone calls, emails and texts with the child;
  • Badmouthing you to the child or blaming you for a situation the child is unhappy about (“We can’t afford a vacation this year because your father/mother left us”);
  • Making the child feel guilty for enjoying time spent with you;
  • Encouraging the child’s anger toward you;
  • Denying you access to information about the child’s activities, or to school or medical records;
  • Deliberately scheduling activities and events during your scheduled parenting time.

If you notice a pattern of these behaviors, don’t assume they are temporary. Speak to an experienced South Carolina child custody attorney about how to make the court aware of the behavior and prevent it from becoming worse.

If you have questions about parental alienation or parental interference in South Carolina, please contact Brinkley Law Firm LLC to schedule a consultation.

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Since founding Brinkley Law Firm in 2011, attorney Stephanie Brinkley has helped families grow and expand by navigating them through the legal challenges surrounding Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) and Adoption. As an attorney who focuses on f… Read More
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