A recent court decision in the celebrity divorce of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt divorce shined a light on the issue of parental alienation in one of the world’s most famous families. The Pitt-Jolie family has been well-known to the public for years and their dramatic split continues to be big news in the celebrity tabloids. Since Jolie filed for divorce, the former couple’s children have resided with her. Pitt, on the other hand, has had only minimal parenting time and communication with his kids for the past two years.
This month, the judge in their case ordered a dramatic increase in Pitt’s parenting time. Calling the children “closed down” to their father, the judge asserted it was “critical” to the best interests of the children to have a healthy relationship with both parents. The judge’s decision cited Jolie’s actions as the likely reason for the children’s estrangement from their father, accusing her of of alienating the children from their father by supervising or otherwise interfering with their communications with him. To facilitate a private relationship between the children and Pitt, Jolie was ordered to stop supervising the children’s phone calls or reading their text messages to their father. Further, the judge ordered that Jolie was only allowed to speak to the children once a day during Pitt’s parenting time. Finally, the judge warned that if the children’s willingness to interact with their father did not change, and there was evidence that the children’s alienation from their father was created or fostered by their mother, then Pitt could become the children’s residential parent.
Parental alienation, whereby one parent seeks to exclude the other parent from the child’s life, is an all-too-common experience for many separated/divorcing parents. This is especially true for those who are not the residential parent (i.e. the parent with whom the child lives). The alienating parent allows their emotions over the separation, or other adult issues, to negatively influence their parenting. Many will criticize, insult, name call, or otherwise speak harshly about the other parent in front of the child to negatively influence the child’s opinion of the other parent. Some alienating parents will limit—or even prohibit—contact between the child and the other parent in an effort to eliminate the child’s relationship with the other parent. Others use parenting time as a bargaining chip to get the non-residential parent to pay child support or other child-related expenses. Many simply cannot get past their own anger or sadness in order to maintain a civil, respectful relationship with the other parent in the presence of the children. The result is a painful divide that can lead to a total breakdown of a parent-child relationship.
The assertion made by the judge in the Jolie/Pitt divorce that the children need to have healthy, strong relationships with both parents is now the common attitude among judges across the country. The judicial system has come to recognize that a relationship, and parenting time, with both parents is in a child’s best interest. Further, the courts have also recognized the emotional harm to a child when they are alienated from from one parent by the other. Courts expect parents to put aside their personal feelings toward each other in order to facilitate healthy relationships between the child and their parents. When parents fail to comply, the courts can and will make significant changes to the parenting time arrangements in order to preserve and protect the parent-child relationship.
As in the Jolie-Pitt case, parents who actively seek to alienate their child from the other parent by preventing, restricting, or otherwise interfering with the other parent’s relationship and parenting time with the child risk losing their role as the residential parent. It is critical that parents follow their parenting time agreements and help to facilitate the child’s relationship with the other parent, both to protect the well-being of the child and avoid being taken to court. Judges will look at the actions and communications of both parents to determine whether either parent is being purposefully alienated from the child. If a judge decides one parent is negatively influencing the child’s attitude toward the other parent, or sees one parent as preventing contact between the child and the other parent, the judge can choose to change the parenting time agreement. This can include moving the child into the non-residential parent’s home. While this change would result in a huge change for the family, many courts have recognized a “flip” in residence as the best remedy to save the relationship between an alienated parent and the child.
If you are finding yourself alienated from your child by your ex and want to know your options, we can help. Our firm has handled many cases for alienated parents like you. We can help you reconnect with your child and get you parenting time, even if your ex is keeping you apart.