Parental Alienation in Illinois

Parental alienation is when a child decides to distance themselves from a parent without a good reason. This is caused by one parent sabotaging the other’s parent/child relationship. Under Illinois law, parental alienation is a form of abuse because it harms the child. To fix this, you file to change parenting time and/or parental responsibilities.

Are you worried the other parent is turning your child against you? That’s not a fun thought to have. It leads to even more worries and doubts like questioning your own judgment, your future relationship with the child, and their safety.

If there was a one-off situation where your child was busy or wanted to spend extra time with the other parent, try not to look too deep into it. But if you are constantly being rejected or you notice their behaviors change drastically, you want an attorney to represent you.

This article explains how the court can help and what to look for to identify parental alienation.

Understanding Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is when a child tries to alienate or reject a parent without a good reason. This can be from small things to major things–from not wanting to talk as often to believing the parent is worthless.

Under Illinois law, for a parent to get custody of their child, they must be willing and able to encourage a close and continuing relationship with the other parent.[1] So, if they prove they are unable to support a relationship with that parent, then the order should change. Whether the order is the temporary order during your case or the final order after the case, it can change if a parent is unable to put the child’s best interests first.

How the Courts Deal with Parental Alienation

The courts first look at whether parental alienation is occurring. The court conducts their own investigation and looks at evidence brought by the accusing parent.

The courts investigation is usually done by the guardian ad litem. They interview the child and the parents and try to understand the situation. The court has the right to seek advice from any professional when determining the best interests of the child.[2] So, they also often look to experts like child psychologists or psychiatrists.

Once parental alienation is proved to be happening, there are a couple things the court can do:

  • Contempt – The judge can hold the alienating parent in contempt of court if they are not following the court-ordered parenting plan. This allows the judge to impose penalties such as fines or jail time.
  • Custody Modification – The court can change the allocation of parental responsibilities or parenting time if a judge believes the alienation is harming the child.
  • Reunification Therapy – Parties can be ordered to get personal therapy or family reunification therapy. In reunification therapy, counselors attempt to help both the parents and the child to bring the family back together.[3]

The judge only issues one of these actions if they see parental alienation has occurred.

Factors the Court Looks At

On its own, a child treating their parent poorly is not enough to establish alienation. In their investigation, the court has the legal and mental health professionals look at five main factors:

  • Resistance to a relationship with the parent. This could be the child refusing to have meaningful interactions with their parent, or it could be the child refusing to talk to or see them.
  • Loss of a previously positive relationship with the parent. This is looking at whether the relationship has deteriorated over time.
    The presence of abuse, neglect, or poor parenting. This is where the court looks to see if there are any valid reasons for the child not wanting to be with the parent they are avoiding.
  • Negative attitudes and behavior toward a parent. This is where the court looks to understand the child. Children tend to act in certain ways when parental alienation is occurring.
  • Behaviors by the alienating parent and others. This is where the court looks at any evidence against the parent who is causing the child to alienate the other parent.

The court doesn’t use the term parental alienation much, but the actions creating the alienation are key to modification cases. If you want help preparing for your hearing or want an attorney to represent you, call Sterling Hughes.

For Immediate help with your family law case or answering any questions please call (312) 757-8082 now!

How to Prepare for Your Case

Before your case begins, you have two main goals. The first is to collect evidence that can prove the other parent is causing the alienation. The second is to protect your child and yourself.

Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Create a log, and track what the other parent says or does.
  • Save any potentially incriminating emails, texts, or phone calls.
  • Request in text or email to see the child for proof of your efforts.
  • Remain consistent and persistent in communicating with the child.
  • Look for counseling or therapy for you and/or your child.

Every situation is different, so keep reading for some common ways parental alienation can show up.

Types of Parental Alienation

Here are some key types of parental alienation you can look for:

  • Relationship Disruption – A parent intentionally damaging the relationship the child has with the other parent.
  • Coaching – A parent telling the child what to think and how to act. This can even go as far as telling a child to lie about abuse.
  • Adultification – A parent inappropriately disclosing information about the other parent or about the legal case. This can seem like that parent seeking support from the child.
  • Interfering with Contact – A parent not allowing the other to properly have their parenting time. This is anything from picking up the child early to making excuses to cancel a visit.

Further Explanation of Relationship Disruption

A parent disrupting the child’s relationship can come in many different forms. Here is a list of some examples to further define what relationship disruption can look like:

  • Badmouthing the Other Parent – A parent being overly critical of the other parent. This parent tries to convince the child the other parent is dangerous, crazy, selfish, or even unworthy of the child’s love.
  • Undermining the Child’s Relationship – A parent subtly showing the other parent cannot be trusted. This could be them getting the child to spy on the other parent or disrespect them in small ways like having them call that parent by their first name.
  • Undermining the Other Parent – When one parent intentionally assets the other parent up for failure. One way this happens is by them refusing to provide information about school, medical care, or activities.
  • Causing Rejection – Making the child feel guilty for loving the other parent or making the child choose between parents. For example, if a parent says they won’t go to a child’s activity if the other parent is there.

Parental alienation is a difficult and complicated topic. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Are you ready to move forward? Call (312) 757-8082 to schedule a strategy session with one of our attorneys.

Considerations

Can a Parenting Plan Help Prevent Parental Alienation?

Creating a parenting plan that both parents agree on will help prevent parental alienation. If both parents are happy or happy enough with the situation, then they won’t feel they need to undermine each other. But you can only do so much because you cannot control the other party. The best thing you can do is work to effectively parent and build a relationship with your child.

What Is Parenting Time Interference?

Parenting time interference is when one parent doesn’t let the other have their parenting time. This could be smaller things like showing up early to pick-ups or showing up late to drop-offs. Or it could be more serious things like convincing a child they aren’t safe at the other parent's home. Parenting time interference is its own problem, and it can be a part of parental alienation.

What Is Estrangement?

Estrangement looks a lot like alienation except that the child is separating for a good reason. If the separation is warranted, due to abuse or something similarly harmful, then it makes sense for the child not to see that parent. Even if the separation is at the suggestion of the other parent, it isn’t parental alienation if it's in the child’s best interest.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are signs of parental alienation?

One of the key signs of parental alienation is a dramatic negative shift in the parent/child relationship, especially when that relationship was previously positive. Other signs could be the child knowing things they shouldn’t about the case or them having knowledge about their parents’ lives they shouldn’t.

How do judges look at parental alienation?

Under Illinois’s child custody laws, judges see parental alienation as something that negatively impacts the child. Judges try to make decisions based on the best interest of the child, so they will work to make sure that parental alienation does not continue.

How do you prove parental alienation?

Parental alienation can be hard to prove, so you want to start accumulating evidence as soon as possible. Other than evidence of previous behaviors of the child or other parent, the court will also look to legal and mental health professionals for further information.

What will courts do for parental alienation?

The courts can punish the parent causing the parental alienation and modify the child custody orders. The modification could be a change in who makes decisions for the child or in who gets parenting time of the child.

What is custodial interference in Illinois?

Custodial interference, also called parenting time interference, is when a parent doesn’t allow the other parent to have their time with the child. This can show up through small things like non-stop calling while the child is with the other parent or bigger things like refusing to let the child see the other parent.

Can a custodial parent deny visitation in Illinois?

If a parent has scheduled parenting time or visitation, the other parent cannot deny them their time with the child. The only time a parent can do this is if they have full discretion of when the child sees the other parent, but that level of power is rarely given.

What happens if a parent violates a parenting plan in Illinois?

If a parent violates the parenting plan in Illinois, there are a couple things that can happen. First, if it is a small violation, then you can have a talk with the other parent about why it happened and how to prevent it in the future. If it was a major violation or there are repeated violations, you can file a petition with the courts to enforce the parenting plan.

References: 1. 750 ILCS § 5/602.5 (c)(11). Allocation of Parental Responsibilities: Decision-Making. | 2. 750 ILCS § 5/604.10 (b). Interviews; Evaluations; Investigation. | 3. 750 ILCS § 5/603.1 (a). Restriction of Parental Responsibilities.