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Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is at the core of a small subset of custody disputes. This is a developing area of New Jersey law. Until recently, a computer search of decisional law in New Jersey using the term "parental alienation" would turn up empty. In two cases, the courts began to address this issue, which as bedrock is about abuse of power and the difficulty the courts have found in setting boundaries, limits and consequences to bad acts.

First: Segal v. Lynch, 413 N.J. Super. 171, 181 (App.Div.2010):

"We are not blind to scenarios in which one parent intentionally or recklessly imbues a child with such calumnious accounts of the other parent, so wicked in their intent and so destructive in their effect.. (as to require) redress. For example, a case in which one parent falsely and intentionally accuses the other parent of sexually abusing the child is so despicable on its face and so destructive in its effect on the innocent parent that it cries out for compensation which is not available in the Family Part or even in the criminal courts. In such cases sound public policy demands that the aggrieved parent... be given compensation beyond just reunification."

Second: K.M v. S.M.M., Docket No. A-0135-09 (App.Div. 7/28/2011).

In this case, the parent who established being the victim of parental alienation was awarded a counsel fee of $1,565,955.29 by the Court. Citing a legal maxim dating back to the 1600s, it states: "A court of equity can never allow itself to become an instrument of injustice." Rolnick v. Rolnick, 290 N.J. Super. 35, (App.Div.1996). Unfortunately it took years for the Court to recognize ongoing harm to the children and remediate the situation- a not unusual occurrence in such instances.

A final quote from Hoefers v. Jones, is offered:

We live in a pluralistic society, in an age of interfaith marriages which like other marriages end in divorce. Do we adopt as a premise in joint custody disputes that children caught between their parents' ideological crossfire must remain in a social and moral no-man's-land? I think not. Common sense, common decency- great benchmarks of an equity court- mandate equity's intervention on behalf of these children, to compel their father's support in order that they may continue their education in the warm and productive environment they now enjoy while receiving, as entitled, the full benefit of the collective good fortunes of their parents.Walton v. Visgil, supra. I so hold...

Life for these children must go on without annual courthouse checkups. As in Brzozowski, for the same compelling reasons, plaintiff/mother must be given like discretion in the future, subject to her obligation to consult with the father. In this case, I find, that she has more than earned that right. Her proofs, when policy-tested, applied to factors relevant to this court's determination, are impressive. She has done an outstanding job. The children are educationally and emotionally thriving. In all aspects of their young lives they are doing very well. Courts should not interrupt such stability and progress. If the King's Christian School receives some incidental benefit by reason of the children's attendance, the law is not offended. Our courts have so held as to incidental benefits received by a custodial parent as a result of a father's fulfilling his child support obligations. Zazzo v. Zazzo, supra, at 131, 584 A.2d 281. Walton v. Visgil, supra, at 650, 591 A.2d 1018. That rationale is equally valid here.

There are hundreds of New Jersey cases resolving custody disputes. By the time custody cases reach the Appellate level, the parties generally are irremediably polarized- generally with profound adverse affects to the children. The above case quotes exemplify how Judges go about the work of the Court in resolving complex chronic, and intricate child custody cases.

One final thought: Appellate Courts have acknowledged the inadequacy of contest custody litigation:

"The child cannot be presumed to be protected by the adversarial process". Kinsella v. Kinsella, 150 N.J. 276, 317-18 (1997)

Then why not consider alternatives?

[Note: As always, information provided in this website is not legal advice, which can only be provided by an attorney who knows the facts in your case.]

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