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Michigan Court of Appeals Delivers Judgment in New Parental Alienation Case

Parental Alienation

On January 28, 2020, the Court of Appeals issued a published opinion in a case regarding an apparent parental alienation matter.  Judge VanAllsburg issued the opinion at the trial court level and his ruling to prohibit all unsupervised parenting time between the child and the alienator, was upheld at the Court of Appeals.   The Court of Appeals’ full opinion can be found here.

From a mere reading of the Court of Appeals’ opinion, there are lessons to be learned for parents who suffer the bitter consequences of Parental Alienation (PA).  I’d like to point out some similarities in this Court of Appeals opinion and what I see in my PA cases. 

First, the opinion states that the mother had been denigrating her ex husband, the father of the children, since 2010.  That means this problem occurred for an astonishing ten years or more before this drastic court order was issued. Dr. Amy Baker, in her book “Breaking the Ties That Bind” thoroughly outlines the long-term damage that Parental Alienation causes to the children.  After ten years of mother’s denigrating, one must assume that these children sustained long term, if not lifelong, damage.  

It is common for Parental Alienation to be ongoing for years before it is remedied through counseling or a change of custody.  In some cases, due to inept counsel or lack of finances to retain an attorney with experience in PA cases, the situation may never be fixed.  Clients often visit me after having spent years in unsuccessful litigation and having spent much of their savings without any results because their attorneys did not have the requisite Parental Alienation experience.  Parental Alienation representation requires a different approach than in many ‘regular’ custody disputes.

Secondly, I noted that the father in this case had been emotionally abusive and had used corporal punishment inappropriately. The father ended up with no contact for a period of four years at which time, he finally sought counseling to improve his anger issues.  By now, it had been six years since the divorce judgment.

I see this problem quite often in my practice as well.  Parental Alienation sometimes starts during the marriage already – it is just not as noticeable.  The alienation intensifies during the custody battle. The targeted parent, who may have had some anger issues to begin with, naturally becomes frustrated due to the untruths, out of proportion allegations and lack of contact with his or her children, which causes them to sometimes lose their cool. That, of course, then provides the requisite coals on the burning fire of litigation and additional withholding of the children.

Thirdly, the mother’s delaying tactics and lack of cooperation with professionals providing services is what makes this a telltale Parental Alienation case.  

Judge VanAllsburg prohibited all unsupervised contact between the mother, who was the alienator and the child “after several attempted less drastic measures failed”.   Mother failed to cooperate with the counselor of her own choosing, so the counselor resigned which created a delay. The reunification expert’s report noted that over a span of several months, “the evidence increasingly showed that [mother] was undermining the reunification efforts”.   The mother failed to arrange appointments with the reunification expert and the mother failed to attend appointments with the reunification expert. 

In most Parental Alienation cases, a lot of attorney fees are spent on seeking compliance with court orders.  It is a constant battle to start and continue normal processes such as an FOC investigation, counseling, discovery document exchanges, attendance at depositions, etc.  To the targeted parent, there is not much of a noticeable benefit from the spent attorney fees, but it, unfortunately, is unavoidable in a Parental Alienation matter and vigilance by the attorney and targeted parent is key to victory.

Fourthly and lastly, Judge VanAllsburg held the mother in contempt of court after repeated failures to comply with court orders and imposed a jail sentence.  When faced with incarceration, the alienating mother agreed to an amended parenting time order which provided the targeted father with joint physical custody.  Logically, the anticipated incarceration and loss of parenting time should have caused the alienating mother to stop her poor behavior. She was unable to do so, which again is indicative of Parental Alienation.  

I have represented many targeted parents in cases where the only option left was a costly change of custody just like the instant case.  The change of custody is costly in many ways.  It costs time. In this Court of Appeals case, it took the father about two years during which he spent time away from family and work (with maybe associated loss of income).  There is a significant financial cost to pay for an attorney, court costs and counselor fees. In the instant case, the father met with and probably paid for anger management, parenting classes, personal counseling, counseling for the children and a reunification expert.  

In many of my cases, parents are ordered to pay for a Guardian Ad Litem, sometimes a forensic psychologist as an expert witness, and a private custody investigator.  Most, importantly, there is the emotional cost and toll on the family and the children. Children benefit from having two good parents and a change of custody is a very poor, but often only, solution in these instances.   An alienated child has sustained significant trauma and a change of custody will add additional trauma. Teenage years are difficult for children in stable families; for many children, the additional strife of Parental Alienation is too much and the children will sustain lifelong damage.  Our Grand Rapids family lawyers favor early intervention and if necessary, this should occur with the additional encouragement of proposed or actual sanctions.

Contact the Grand Rapids Parental Alienation Lawyers at Our Firm Today

If you are experiencing Parental Alienation, call the Parental Alienation attorneys at Kraayeveld Law at 616-285-0808 or complete our contact form to work towards a permanent solution.  We handled our first Parental Alienation case in 1998 and through the years have continued our representation of targeted parents.