Category Archives: Minnesota Custody Lawyer

Parental Alienation Issues Negatively Impact Children

A very troublesome issue in some Custody and Parenting Time disputes and Divorces is when a parent intentionally attempts to alienate the children from the other parent. Trying to prove the alienation can be difficult as often there are vastly different stories and claims made by both parents and oftentimes the parties and the children are the only witnesses to the disputed facts.  Most judges are extremely reluctant to allow or have children testify in court and due to budget crunches and other factors it can be very difficult to have the court appoint a guardian ad litem.  Custody studies are also becoming more and more expensive.

In these types of cases it is usually critical a competent psychological evaluator and/or custody expert be retained to assess the children and situation, which will require a court Order unless the opposing party or counsel agree to the assessment.  Often times the alienation is only discovered, after the fact, when there is Parent Reunification Counseling that is completed.

There can also be disputes whether an alleged abusive parent’s own conduct has caused the alienation instead of the opposing party. To successfully prove alienation  claims it is also important to have an experienced divorce attorney who is familiar with these type of unique issues.

Experts recognize the dire tragic impact serious alienation has on children as do some judges. A recent article, by Paul Reitman,  discusses the problems it can cause and the need for more study by the courts. I am including the article in this blog as it is important and helpful:

Courts need to study parental alienation
Courts need to study parental alienation
By: Paul Reitman May 19, 2017

I have been doing parental reunification therapy since 1990 up until 2017. Throughout the years I have been extremely frustrated with parental alienation being minimized by the courts and then being allowed to continue. The impact is serious and can have lifelong effects, and children who are alienated are at a higher risk for psychological and psychiatric disorders.
I would like to discuss the major issues that cause parental alienation to be so difficult to confront.
A syndrome, not a diagnosis
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) did not recognize parental alienation as a diagnosis; therefore, the myth has developed that there is no such thing as parental alienation.
Another issue that comes up from time to time is that some courts believe that in any type of adversarial divorce parental alienation is a normal development. This simply is not true. There are many individuals who get divorced who have adversarial feelings towards each other but they are able to discriminate between their own feelings and the need for the child to have a significant relationship with their mother or father.
Parental alienation should not be a diagnosis because it is a syndrome. It is a syndrome that causes children to develop depressive disorders and anxiety disorders, as well as personality disorders, causing severe impairment in the child’s ability to establish future intimate relationships with members of the opposite sex.
Often, courts will simply acknowledge parental alienation and set up a course of action whereby a mental health professional is appointed to do parental reunification. Typically, this will occur once a week, which is totally inadequate to confront the alienating parent. Ideally, there should be a team of mental health professionals who have the appropriate credentials, i.e., training in clinical psychology with respect to child development, attachment theory, and the ability to diagnose individuals and children with mental disorders. They also should be able to assess for parental coaching.
When there are inadequate measures, the alienating parent will typically not discontinue the alienation and the children will typically identify with the alienating parent and create an alliance with that parent. This is not to be unexpected. Children and even adolescents have not matured cognitively to be able to discriminate and understand that they have a right to have a relationship with each parent and because of the psychic conflict and cognitive ambivalence they have, they will identify and ally themselves with one parent.
In my professional experience, it has been the exception when a judge ordered children to be removed from the alienating parent’s home and then participate in deprogramming with a clinical psychologist that has that expertise.
Furthermore, if the alienating parent will not cease his or her activities, then he or she should be required to have supervised visitation.
Comprehensive assessments
There is an array of mental health professionals who participate in parental reunification therapy. Competencies and expertise are crucial and once again, as discussed above, the mental health professional should have training in clinical psychology and the ability to diagnose mental disorders in children and adolescents as well as in adults.
Furthermore, comprehensive assessments are required and roles need to be delineated so that the mental health professional is not taking on too many roles. For example, if a psychologist is appointed to do assessments of the entire family to determine if there is in fact parental alienation occurring, then he or she should not be the reunification therapist.
Psychological assessment is an exquisite art that requires comprehensive training in understanding the uses and abuses of psychometric testing. So often I have encountered assessments utilizing the MMPI-II or the MMPI-II-RF as well as the MCMI-III. These tools report to give an assessment of psychopathology and psychopathy (symptoms of mental illness and symptoms of personality disorders).
However, when parents are in an adversarial relationship or an adversarial custody study, it will likely produce elevations on psychometric tools that are transient and not permanent. For example, a father who is being alienated from his children and is not getting any true psychological assistance or relief will likely endorse symptoms of paranoia, mistrust, anxiety and even depression. If this presentation is taken in a vacuum, it produces a false positive assessment of mental illnesses. The examiner must be trained in understanding reliability and validity of psychological testing as well as being able to be at the center of the assessment, often times dismissing elevations based upon transient symptoms.
Additionally, under the American Psychological Association Guidelines for Custody Studies, a psychologist should not make recommendations about parental alienation without seeing the mother, the father and the children. Seeing one parent only and not examining the children and then making recommendations that: a) parental alienation is occurring; b) the children should be removed from one parent’s household; and c) the children should be placed in a different household, is simply not ethical.
First, parental alienation is a pervasive pattern of confusing children, causing them a great deal of distress, depression and anxiety, and typically if they are living with the alienating parent, they are in a role reversal whereby they are becoming little adults taking care of the alienating parent.
Second, when partial interventions are made and the alienating parent is not understood and given the opportunity for therapy to confront the alienation, then it is highly unlikely that it will stop. I have had too many cases whereby a child at 15 was alienated and partial procedures were implemented and it never dented the child’s psychological status. It went on until the child became 18 and then simply terminated the relationship with the parent that has been alienated.
It is quite clear in the clinical literature that children who come from divorce are at higher risk for mental disorders. However, the literature and research is quite clear that children that are able to maintain and sustain a significant relationship with both parents have a much better chance of living normal lives and become productive.
I highly recommend to the judiciary and the Legislature that a study be undertaken to examine this syndrome and to become familiar with the type of interventions that are required in order to discontinue this syndrome that has significant adverse effects on children and adolescents.
Paul M. Reitman, Ph.D., L.P., F.A.C.F.E., has been a forensic and clinical psychologist since 1981. During that time, he has also practiced in the fields of hospital psychology, outpatient psychology, and has always maintained a clinical practice on both an outpatient and inpatient basis. he has always maintained a clinical practice and was a hospital psychologist up until 2017.

It should be clear alienation needs to be stopped as it can have devastating consequences to children.  If you face these issues immediately contact an experienced divorce attorney to take prompt steps to combat and prove the claims and seek appropriate relief.

Divorce Can Have Some Positive Benefits For Children

I have seen many ugly divorces and custody battles. It is without doubt an ugly divorce where children are used as pawns or placed in the middle of conflict will cause serious emotional harm to children. It has been a pleasant change that the procedures and family law rules have now been changed to encourage amicable resolution of custody disputes without ugly litigation through Mediation or Social Early Neutral Evaluation and to minimize Temporary Hearings until amicable Alternative Dispute Resolution is attempted.

Some experts are also now confirming that divorce can have some positive benefits to children.  Jackie Middleton has stated in Canadian Living that many divorce children can experience these five benefits:

1. Divorced children often learn to be Resilient and Adaptable.

2. Divorced Children often learn to be more Self-Sufficient.

3. Divorced Children often have an increased sense of Empathy towards others.

4. Divorced Children will often not take their own marriage for granted.

5. Divorced Children often learn more about each parent based on the quality time they spend alone with each parent individually rather than in a family setting.

There is far from consensus opinion on how divorces affect children. But based on my observations and experience it is very important to keep the children out of the conflict. Children do far better when they have both parents in their lives and are not subject to a parent constantly bad-mouthing the other.

Your children will be much better off, as will you, if you find a way to settle your Parenting Disputes and avoid Custody Litigation and a Custody Trial. Sometimes this is not possible, but do your children a favor and do your best to keep them out of the conflict.

A good divorce lawyer can litigate when necessary, but also can guide you through more amicable options and procedures that can lead to an amicable settlement. It is critical to promptly retain an experienced divorce attorney at the beginning of any divorce or custody dispute.




Significant Other’s Can Impact Custody Decisions

In an unpublished opinion in Newman vs. Newman, A15-0561 (Minn.Ct. App. Dec.21, 2015) the court of appeals reviewed an appeal from a divorce involving a 16 year marriage involving three minor children with a mother who had been a full-time homemaker since 2003 and a father who recently retired early. The trial court granted joint legal custody, but granted the father sole physical custody.

Mother appealed and claimed the trial court erred in not granting her joint physical custody or sole physical custody.  The appellate court noted there had been acrimony and a lot of personal attacks in the case and that a current harassment restraining order precluded father from harassing the mother. It was noted this conflict did not support their ability to cooperate under a joint physical custody arrangement.

The court also found that although there was not evidence of domestic abuse, the court had deep concern about the safety of the parties’ daughters around the mother’s live in boyfriend who had been convicted of felony invasion of privacy of a minor for hiding a video camera in his 17 year-old, step-daughter’s bathroom. It was specifically ordered the mother’s parenting time not include her boyfriend and that the mother’s boyfriend directing impacted the physical and emotional safety of the children.

In addressing the best interest factors the court noted nine were neutral, one inapplicable, two favored the father and one favored the mother. The deciding factor was the interaction and interrelationship of a person who may significantly affect the children’s best interests.  In this case the mother’s decision to live with a convicted felon who had harmed his step-daughter lead to her losing physical custody.

If custody is an issue in a divorce or paternity action it is crucial to immediately consult with an experienced divorce lawyer or knowledgeable family law attorney. Decisions about living arrangements, significant others, and high conflict disputes with your spouse can preclude sharing joint physical custody or even lead to a longtime homemaker to lose physical custody.




New Custody Law Factors Starting August 1, 2015

After years of debate Minnesota has substantially revised the “best interest factors” to determine Custody under Minnesota Statute 518.17, effective August 1, 2015. There have been meetings and substantial debate since 2012 on how the custody laws should be modified. An important overriding factor considered was to promote the best interests of the child by promoting the child’s healthy growth and development through safe, stable, nurturing relationships between a child and both parents. The factors now emphasize pieces that impact a child’s safety, stability and well-being and nurturing relationships. A shift now more explicitly looks at a child’s relationship with both parents.

The prior law included 13 factors and an additional 4 factors if either party requested joint physical custody. The new law now relies on 12 factors in each case.

1) How does a proposed custody arrangement impact a child’s development and a child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs? This is to focus on the child’s needs rather the parental requests as a factor.

2) A court shall consider any special medical, mental health, or educational needs of the child requiring special parenting arrangements. This is a whole new factor.

3) A court shall consider the reasonable preference of the child, if the court determines the child to be of sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference.

4) A court shall determine whether domestic abuse has occurred in the parent’s relationship or household and the implications of the abuse for parenting and the child’s safety, or developmental needs.

5) A court shall also look at whether any  physical, mental or chemical health issue of a parent impacts a child’s safety or development.

6) A court shall consider the history and nature of each parents participation in providing care for the child. Appears to simply the prior primary caretaker factor.

7) A court is to look at the willingness of each parent to care for the child, to meet the child’s developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time.

8) A court shall evaluate the child’s well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community.

9) A court shall evaluate the effect a proposed arrangement on realtionships between the child and each parent, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life.

10) A court shall determine the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment in limiting parenting time with either parent.

11) Except when domestic abuse has occurred the court shall evaluate the disposition of both parent’s to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent contact with the other parent.

12) The willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in raising the child and to maximize sharing information and to minimize exposure to parental conflict as well as utilize methods to resolve disputes on major issues impacting the child.

The law changes are yet to be interpreted, but appear to make major shifts in emphasis on the child’s needs and yet to be broader in focusing on both parents.

In dealing with Custody issues it is always best to retain experienced legal counsel to be fully prepared to artfully advocate your concerns and interests. There are many decisions to made in custody disputes concerning the Process, Experts, Mediators or Litigation, which are best handled with the assistance of knowledgeable legal counsel.

How to Help Your Children When You Separate or Divorce

For people who are childless, divorce is relatively straightforward; once they are divorced, they never have to see each other again.  But when people have children, they are bound together for life in some ways, regardless of their marital status. They also have to worry about the third parties to the separation and divorce, their children.  It is critical to focus on what is best for the children.  In addition, if you are ever in litigation with your ex-spouse, having a record of having acted in the best interest of your children will serve you well).

HelpGuide has a great guide on helping children of any age cope with separation and divorce.  The Mayo Clinic also has a good discussion of this topic. Parents can help their children by providing stability and reassurance to the children.  Remember, that your children’s needs come first, and they need to feel loved by both their parents, and they usually want both parents to remain an important part of their life.   They also need to know that the separation or divorce was a grown-up decision that had nothing to do with them.

You may not be married anymore, but you are parenting partners for life

You need to take the long view.  If your children are young, you and your spouse, or a court, will get to decide how much time each parent has with the child.  However, once they are adults, they will get to decide how much, if any, time they spend with their parents.  If you nurture a warm loving relationship with your children, you may be invited to share their lives.

Also, no matter how bitter and unhappy you and your ex are now, you will likely come together for family events for the rest of your lives.  If your children are young, there will be school events and extracurricular events where both parents are invited.  As children get older, there will be graduations, and possibly weddings and grandchildren.  Will you be together for the children’s birthdays or will you celebrate them separately? Will you alternate Christmas and Thanksgiving?

Sad child in front of arguing parentsBecause parental conflict can be traumatic for children, it is best if you and your spouse can form a partnership, working together for the best interest of the school.  Otherwise, your children may learn to manipulate you and play one parent against the other.  You will need to bite your tongue and not say anything derogatory about your ex to your child; your relationship with your ex is your decision, but your children love both parents and need both parents in their lives (unless one parent has been abusive either to you or to the children – that’s a different situation).

If tensions are high with your ex, see if you can arrange drop-offs and pick-ups so that you do not need to see each other.  Today, you can handle arrangements with a Google calendar and communicate by texting or email, reducing the opportunities for person contact.  Do not confide problems with your ex to your children.  You will need to develop other friends that you can confide in.

Telling children about the news about the big change

You and your ex need to think carefully about how you will explain this change in your lives.  You should do the best you can to be on the same page, and anticipate what will be of most concern for your children.  They will want to know where they will live and when they will see both parents.  If they are teens, they will want to spend time with their friends as well as with their parents.   Ideally, you would both sit down together with the children and explain what will happen.

  •       Tell them the truth, but remember you don’t have to tell them everything.  Be sure you let them know that while parents can fall out of love with each other, they can never stop loving their children.
  •       Tell them you love them.
  •       Share information about the logistics of their new life. Will they stay in their current home and school?  Will then need to move?  Will their parents share custody?  When will they see each parent?  What if they want to spend time with their friends?

Help your children grieve

For many children, a separation or a divorce is traumatic, a major change in their lives imposed by their parents.  You can help by giving your children choices, and by helping them grieve.  Be sure to listen to them and encourage them to express their feelings.  And acknowledge their feelings rather than dismiss them.

Stay connected to your children

Being the noncustodial parent can be painful, but it is important to stay in touch with your children.  Technology has made it so much easier to stay in touch; even if you live far away, you can Skype regularly and call.  Sometimes its useful for even young children to have their own telephone, so parents can contact them directly.

If you need legal help with any family law matter in Minnesota, including custody issues, contact Arrigoni Law today.