When two parents decide to no longer continue their relationship with each other they still must maintain a relationship with the children. When one parent’s relationship with his or her child is harmed by the other parent the term “parental alienation” is often invoked by psychiatrists and family law attorneys. What is parental alienation in Illinois?
What Is Parental Alienation?
“Parental alienation syndrome” is a term coined in 1985 to describe a distinctive suite of behaviors in children that includes showing extreme but unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent.
Illinois courts do not like the fuzzy psychological concept of “parental alienation.” Illinois courts have specifically said to “throw out the words `parental alienation syndrome.'” In expressly disclaiming any reliance on the [Parental Alienation Syndrome] theory” In re Marriage of Bates, 212 Ill.2d 489, 289 Ill.Dec. 218, 819 N.E.2d 714 (Ill. 2004)
Instead, Illinois law has a variety of statutes and procedures to prevent and discourage anything that looks like parental alienation.
Establishing A Parenting Plan That Prevents Parental Alienation.
“All parents, within 120 days after service or filing of any petition for allocation of parental responsibilities, must file with the court, either jointly or separately, a proposed parenting plan.” 750 ILCS 5/602.10(a)
“”Parenting plan” means a written agreement that allocates significant decision-making responsibilities, parenting time, or both.” 750 ILCS 5/600(f)
My family law firm always includes this paragraph in every proposed parenting plan:
“Each parent shall use their best efforts to foster the love, respect and affection of the child toward each parent, and shall cooperate fully in implementing a relationship with the children that will give them a maximum feeling of security.“
If one parent submits a parenting plan with little to no parenting time or decision-making, the initial case for parental alienation can be made using their court filings.
If the parenting plan exhibits the initial signs of parental alienation (or a parenting plan hasn’t been submitted at all) then a motion for temporary parenting time must be filed to stem any possible parental alienation.
Temporary Parenting Time As An Immediate Cure For Parental Alienation In Illinois
An obvious cure for one parent poisoning a child’s mind about the other parent is to simply let the child spend time with the other parent. At any point during an Illinois divorce or parentage action, either parent can request from the courts immediate parenting time with their children.
“A court may order a temporary allocation of parental responsibilities in the child’s best interests before the entry of a final allocation judgment.” 750 ILCS 5/603.5(a)
“Any temporary allocation shall be made in accordance with the standards set forth in Sections 602.5 and 602.7: (i) after a hearing; or (ii) if there is no objection, on the basis of a parenting plan that, at a minimum, complies with subsection (f) of Section 602.10.” 750 ILCS 5/603.5(a)
An Illinois family law court will make the exact same considerations when setting temporary parenting time as they do when establishing permanent parenting time and parental decision making.
“It [is] in the minor child’s best interests to maximize involvement of both parents.” In re Marriage of Perez, 2015 IL App (3d) 140876
Illinois courts base all parenting time decisions of the best interests of the child after considering all of the available evidence.
“The court shall allocate parenting time according to the child’s best interests.” 750 ILCS 5/602.7(a)
“In determining the child’s best interests for purposes of allocating significant decision-making responsibilities, the court shall consider”
the ability of the parents to cooperate to make decisions, or the level of conflict between the parties that may affect their ability to share decision-making;
the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.” (emphasis mine) 750 ILCS 5/600(c)
The frustration of “close and continuing relationship between the other parent the child” needs to be brought to the court’s attention when making any request for parenting time.
If it is alleged that the other parent continues to hamper the relationship between a parent and a child, a third party must get involved to investigate.
Guardian Ad Litems, Child Representatives And Parental Alienation In Illinois
Any case involving parental alienation will be frought with “he said, she said” accusations. A judge cannot be expected to get to the bottom of emotionally charged allegations. In Illinois, family courts appoint Guardian Ad Litems and Child Representatives to investigate the facts.
“The guardian ad litem shall investigate the facts of the case and interview the child and the parties.” 750 ILCS 5/506(a)(2)
Guardian Ad Litems and Child.Representatives are attorneys who represent the best interests of the child. A Guardian Ad Litem issues a report after their investigation whereas a Child Representative does not issue a report.
“The guardian ad litem shall testify or submit a written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations in accordance with the best interest of the child. The report shall be made available to all parties.” 750 ILCS 5/506(a)(2)
A Guardian Ad Litem can also provide testimony to the court regarding their findings and a Child Representative may merely present outside evidence like any other attorney.
“The guardian ad litem may be called as a witness for purposes of cross-examination regarding the guardian ad litem’s report or recommendations.” 750 ILCS 5/506(a)(2)
For these reasons, in a high-stakes conflict such as parental alienation, parties will want to request a Guardian Ad Litem in lieu of a Child Representative.
The Guardian Ad Litem will interview both parents, the children and any other person who may have interacted with the parties. This usually includes babysitters, relatives and especially therapists for the parents and the children.
Proving parental alienation in Illinois is largely the responsibility of the Guardian Ad Litem’s investigation and report. You will still have to advocate to the Guardian Ad Litem to outline what actions have occurred that could constitute alienation and what recommendations are being made to prevent any future alienation.
Parental alienation is a serious situation and/or accusation. If the parties are not in therapy, they will be ordered to attend therapy.
Court Ordered Psychiatrists In An Illinois Parental Alienation Matter
A parent may be making disparaging remarks about the other parent in front of the child. Less obviously, a parent may be making subtle inferences that discourage a child in their relationship with their parent. Then the child internalizes these behaviors and makes a conscious or unconscious decision about their relationship with the other parent.
Alternatively, the other parent may simply be hostile or unpleasant to the point that the child cannot develop a loving, secure relationship with him or her.
Who is supposed to determine if the child’s poor relationship with a parent is the fault of the parent themselves or a parent engaging in parental alienation?
An unbiased psychiatrist is usually appointed by the court to make that determination and issue a report to the court and all parties.
“Court’s Professional. The court may seek the advice of any professional, whether or not regularly employed by the court, to assist the court in determining the child’s best interests.” 750 ILCS 5/604.10(b)
The court’s professional has a lot of duties because their recommendations will determine parenting time and parental responsibilities.
The advice to the court shall be in writing and sent by the professional to counsel for the parties and to the court not later than 60 days before the date on which the trial court reasonably anticipates the hearing on the allocation of parental responsibilities will commence. The court may review the writing upon receipt. The writing may be admitted into evidence without testimony from its author, unless a party objects. A professional consulted by the court shall testify as the court’s witness and be subject to cross-examination. The court shall order all costs and fees of the professional to be paid by one or more of the parties, subject to reallocation in accordance with subsection (a) of Section 508. ” 750 ILCS 5/604.10(b)
If a party does not like the court professional’s recommendations (and one party will always not like the court professional’s recommendations) that party can hire their own professional to counteract that recommendation.
“Evaluation by a party’s retained professional. In a proceeding to allocate parental responsibilities or to relocate a child, upon notice and motion made by a parent or any party to the litigation within a reasonable time before trial, the court shall order an evaluation to assist the court in determining the child’s best interests unless the court finds that an evaluation under this Section is untimely or not in the best interests of the child. The evaluation may be in place of or in addition to any advice given to the court by a professional under subsection (b). A motion for an evaluation under this subsection must, at a minimum, identify the proposed evaluator and the evaluator’s specialty or discipline. An order for an evaluation under this subsection must set forth the evaluator’s name, address, and telephone number and the time, place, conditions, and scope of the evaluation. No person shall be required to travel an unreasonable distance for the evaluation. The party requesting the evaluation shall pay the evaluator’s fees and costs unless otherwise ordered by the court.” 750 ILCS 5/604(c)
You’ll notice that the court’s professional’s fee gets paid by both parties while the individual evaluator’s fee gets paid by the objecting party.
If the case is so heated that both parties know in advance that they will each need their own evaluator, they can ask the court to reject appointing a court’s professional and each retain their own evaluator at their own cost.
Both the court professional and an evaluator’s report must contain the following:
“(1) a description of the procedures employed during the evaluation;
(2) a report of the data collected;
(3) all test results;
(4) any conclusions of the professional relating to the allocation of parental responsibilities under Sections 602.5 and 602.7;
(5) any recommendations of the professional concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities or the child’s relocation; and
(6) an explanation of any limitations in the evaluation or any reservations of the professional regarding the resulting recommendations.” 750 ILCS 5/604(b) and 750 ILCS 5/604(c)
This is a lot. Once psychiatrists are hired along with two attorneys and a third attorney for the child, the expense can really add up. But, you can always make more money, you can never get back time with your child.
Parental Alienation Post-Divorce
If something like parental alienation is occurring, you can ask the court to enforce your allocation of parenting time and parental decision making should include a clause forbidding disparagement of the other parent.
Having the court tell the other parent to “knock it off” is almost never enough. Usually, you have to ask to restrict the alienating parent’s time or put conditions on the alienating parent’s parenting time.
“After a hearing, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development, the court shall enter orders as necessary to protect the child. Such orders may include, but are not limited to, orders for one or more of the following:
(1) a reduction, elimination, or other adjustment of the parent’s decision-making responsibilities or parenting time, or both decision-making responsibilities and parenting time;” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)
“The court may modify an order restricting parental responsibilities if, after a hearing, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a modification is in the child’s best interests based on (i) a change of circumstances that occurred after the entry of an order restricting parental responsibilities; or (ii) conduct of which the court was previously unaware that seriously endangers the child. In determining whether to modify an order under this subsection, the court must consider factors that include, but need not be limited to, the following:
[P]ersistent continuing interference with the other parent’s access to the child, except for actions taken with a reasonable, good-faith belief that they are necessary to protect the child’s safety pending adjudication of the facts underlying that belief, provided that the interfering parent initiates a proceeding to determine those facts as soon as practicable.” (emphasis mine) 750 ILCS 5/603.10(b)
Even when it’s as plain as day that a parent’s behavior has “seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral or physical health” it is still incredibly difficult to remove that parent’s influence over the child.
“The endangerment standard embodied in sections 607(a) and 607(c) has been described as onerous, stringent, and rigorous. The courts of this State have been reluctant to deny visitation rights because of the principle that parents have a natural or inherent right of access to their children, and because sound public policy encourages the maintenance of strong family relationships, even in post-divorce situations; only extreme circumstances allow courts to deprive a parent of visitation. Therefore, liberal visitation is the rule; restricted visitation is the exception.” In re Marriage of Diehl, 221 Ill. App. 3d 410, 429 (Ill. App. Ct. 1991) (Citations Ommitted)
The Real Solution To Parental Alienation
In the alternative to holding an alienating parent in contempt or modifying the parenting schedule, the Illinois Marriage And Dissolution of Marriage Act has a statute that is perfect for both the punishment and resolution of alienating behavior: 750 ILCS 5/607.5: the abuse of allocated parenting time.
“If the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent has not complied with allocated parenting time according to an approved parenting plan or a court order, the court, in the child’s best interests, shall issue an order that may include one or more of the following:
- an imposition of additional terms and conditions consistent with the court’s previous allocation of parenting time or other order;
- a requirement that either or both of the parties attend a parental education program at the expense of the non-complying parent;
- upon consideration of all relevant factors, particularly a history or possibility of domestic violence, a requirement that the parties participate in family or individual counseling, the expense of which shall be allocated by the court; if counseling is ordered, all counseling sessions shall be confidential, and the communications in counseling shall not be used in any manner in litigation nor relied upon by an expert appointed by the court or retained by any party;
- a requirement that the non-complying parent post a cash bond or other security to ensure future compliance, including a provision that the bond or other security may be forfeited to the other parent for payment of expenses on behalf of the child as the court shall direct;
- a requirement that makeup parenting time be provided for the aggrieved parent or child under the following conditions:(A) that the parenting time is of the same type and duration as the parenting time that was denied, including but not limited to parenting time during weekends, on holidays, and on weekdays and during times when the child is not in school;(B) that the parenting time is made up within 6 months after the noncompliance occurs, unless the period of time or holiday cannot be made up within 6 months, in which case the parenting time shall be made up within one year after the noncompliance occurs;
- a finding that the non-complying parent is in contempt of court;
- an imposition on the non-complying parent of an appropriate civil fine per incident of denied parenting time;
- a requirement that the non-complying parent reimburse the other parent for all reasonable expenses incurred as a result of the violation of the parenting plan or court order; and
- any other provision that may promote the child’s best interests.” 750 ILCS 5/607.5(c)
This statute simply requires a showing that one parent did not comply and then allows the court to provide a slew of possible solutions including make-up time, counseling and attorney’s fees.
Real, actual parental alienation can be so extreme that it must be addressed on a day to day basis. The only way to effectively investigate and even supervise a parent’s behavior is to hire a parenting coordinator.
A parenting coordinator is a third party, usually someone with a therapist’s or social worker’s background, who on a day-to-day basis will direct the parents in both when and how they parent.
“The Court may appoint a parenting coordinator when it finds the following:
- The parties failed to adequately cooperate and communicate with regard to issues involving their children, or have been unable to implement a parenting plan or parenting schedule;
- Mediation has not been successful or has been determined by the judge to be inappropriate; or
- The appointment of a parenting coordinator is in the best interests of the child or children involved in the proceedings” Cook County Court Rule 13.10
Having a stranger tell you how to parent or even tell your children’s other parent how to parent is so intrusive to both the parents and the children. But, it might be the only way to maintain a parent-child relationship that is even quasi-normal until the alienation issues have been finally resolved.
Changing Custody Because Of Parental Alienation
If one party consistently and clearly alienates the children from their other parent…and everyone agrees, the physical custody of the child may be transferred to the alienated parent.
The Illinois Supreme Court in In re Marriage of Bates found that “[a]ll of the expert testimony supports the conclusion that Norma had consistently failed to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between S.B. and Edward. Dr. Blechman, the court-appointed clinical psychologist, testified that Norma had engaged in a systematic pattern of undermining Edward with S.B. and that only a change of custody to Edward was in the child’s best interests. Dr. Shapiro, the psychologist who evaluated Norma at the court’s request, found that Norma was openly distrustful and untruthful in standardized testing and that she did not encourage a close relationship between S.B. and Edward. Dr. Hatcher, the court-appointed therapist, described acute emotional distress in S.B. caused by the mother’s activities, requiring a change in custody. He found no evidence that Edward had neglected or harmed the child in any way, physically, emotionally, or psychologically. Dr. Gardner, Edward’s retained expert, testified that Norma had alienated S.B. from her father and that a change of custody was warranted.” In re Marriage of Bates, 819 NE 2d 714 – Ill: Supreme Court 2004
An Illinois divorce court can completely transfer custody based on evidence of alienation. A trial court was affirmed “after hearing testimony from both parents, the court awarded the father sole custody, finding that the mother lacked credibility and that she had engaged in a pattern of interference and otherwise sought to alienate the child from a healthy relationship with her father and his family.” MARRIAGE OF DOWD AND DOWD, 2016 IL App (1st) 160098 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 6th Div. 2016 (quotations omitted)
Complete removal of the child from the alienating parent is unlikely but equal parenting time is very likely. While “Custody awards that grant each parent equal parenting time by alternating custody between parents for extended periods are generally inappropriate…However, such an arrangement can be in the best interests of a child where the parents live close to each other and such a schedule is necessary to thwart alienation caused by one parent.” In re Marriage of Virgin, 188 NE 3d 1218 – Ill: Appellate Court, 3rd Dist. 2021
An alienated child “need[s] to spend an uninterrupted extended period of time with [the alienated parent], with less interference from [the other parent], to thwart the parental alienation caused by [the other parent]” In re Marriage of Divelbiss, 719 NE 2d 375 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 1999
If you believe your children’s other parent is engaging in parental alienation during or after your Illinois divorce, contact my Chicago, Illinois law firm to discuss all of your options with an experienced Chicago divorce lawyer.