Burke Levy, P.C.

Abusive spouses may manipulate court to get custody

In some divorces, the children end up in the middle of a power struggle. Parents who otherwise love their children lose sight of the positive qualities their co-parents have and focus instead on denying their ex-spouses custody just to get even or cause pain. In the best of these cases, the parents resolve their issues, and the children benefit from an arrangement of equal custody.

However, your children may not benefit from shared custody, especially if your spouse is abusive. You may feel it is your life's duty to protect your children from the harm your spouse may inflict on them, whether physical or emotional, and a large part of that protecting involves divorcing your spouse and seeking sole custody. Unfortunately, your spouse may have an advantage you may not foresee.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

A relatively recent scheme abusive spouses may use in court is claiming parental alienation. This concept first came to light in 2001 with the publication of an article by a university professor who claimed that a divorcing parent may try to gain custody of the children by brainwashing the children into believing negative things about their other parent. The children, already confused by the divorce, subsequently refuse to go with the other parent and eventually alienate the parent altogether.

When a parent brings claims of parental alienation syndrome to a Massachusetts courtroom, judges frequently respond by removing the children from the home and placing them exclusively with the alienated parent because, the professor's report claims, this is the best way to deprogram a child. While this may sound logical on paper, it is likely a horrifying possibility if your spouse is abusive. By claiming PAS, your spouse may convince the court to place your children in the most harmful situation possible. Some of the ways you may be able to protect yourself — and your children — from accusations of PAS include:

  • Providing the court with evidence that your spouse has past convictions for violent crimes, if this is the case
  • Keeping accurate and detailed records of your spouse's abusive words and actions
  • Keeping a calendar of the times your spouse is with the children, what happened during those visits and how the children reacted to being with their other parent
  • Getting schedule changes in writing, for example sending your ex-spouse an email confirming his or her verbal schedule changes
  • Attending PAS conferences or meeting with other survivors of abuse

During a divorce, your children are likely to feel confused, angry, uncertain of their loyalties and prone to inappropriate behavior. However, this does not mean you have turned them against your spouse simply as a power ploy. Preparing yourself for the possibility that your abusive spouse will claim parental alienation will be an important part of your divorce process.

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