Unfortunately, sometimes a child custody case or a divorce has the unfortunate consequence that a parent has the goal of alienating or undermining a child’s relationship with the other parent through a course of conduct that is designed to create separation from the parent and minor child. In some cases, the conduct is so extreme that a therapist must become involved for the estranged parent to become ‘reunified’ with the minor child. In other cases, the parent who deprives the other parent of his or rights through concealing the child or intentionally violating a court Order, can be charged with a felony-level offense under Minnesota Statute Section 609.26 (2011). The conduct resulting in the separation or estrangements can sometimes be more subtle, however.
In some cases, a parent’s conduct or comments made with respect to the other parent, when made in the presence of the child, can manipulate or distort the child’s impression of the other parent. In some cases, a parent will tell the child that “mom/dad does not love you”. In other cases, the offending parent may try to evoke the child’s sympathies by playing the role of the “victim” because the other parent is the one seeking the divorce. Such conduct is inconsistent with the ‘child’s best interests’, as that term is defined in Minnesota law, (518.17 subd. 1). A majority of courts, including Minnesota courts, agree that a sustained course of conduct by one parent designed to diminish a child’s relationship with the other parent may be grounds for denying custody rights. See Lemcke v. Lemckle, 623 N.W.2d 916, 919 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001). A course of conduct including interference with visitation and designed to alienate children from a parent’s affection can also be grounds for a child custody modification. See Henrikson v. Henrikson, 179 N.W.2d 284, 285 (Minn. 1970). There are remedies available to a parent being victimized by the other parent’s attempt to alienate or diminish his or her relationship with the minor child.
If a parent with rights to custody or parenting time with respect to a minor child, is the target of an attempt to have her/his relationship with that minor children undermined, serious consideration should be given to seeking legal advice for possible remedies. Speak to a Minnesota divorce lawyer about the details of your situation.