Parental Alienation in a Florida Child Custody Dispute

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The divorce process can be especially challenging for parents because the intense emotions and animosity that accompany divorce may make the prospect of a long-term co-parenting relationship a daunting task.  A wealth of data suggests children are less likely to experience the impact of divorce if parents are able to build a constructive amicable co-parenting relationship.  The Florida legal standard for determining custody also recognizes the significant impact of attempts by a parent to alienate the relationship of the other parent with minor children.  Whether a Florida family law judge is making initial child custody orders or modifying custody orders in a divorce judgment, parents can make the situation easier for their kids and improve the prospects of a favorable custody order by working to build a constructive communicative relationship with the other parent.

While the legal standard that a judge will use when determining appropriate child custody orders is the best interest of the child.  Many of the factors that a judge will consider when applying this standard involve the degree to which a parent is capable of positive communication with the other parent and the willingness of a parent to encourage frequent and continuing contact with the other parent.  A parent who shows a willingness to make reasonable adjustments and facilitate the child’s time with the other parent without the need for formal court proceedings will improve his or her position in a contested custody dispute.  By contrast, parents who denigrate the other parent and engage in conduct that is intended to drive a wedge between the minor children and the other parent may lose custody even after a judgment grants the offending parent the greater timeshare.


There are many forms of conduct that may be considered evidence of alienating behavior toward the other parent.  Some examples of conduct that may be considered evidence of an attempt at parental alienation toward the other parent include:


  • Disparaging and derogatory comments
  • Refusing to comply with court orders regarding custody and parenting time
  • Using the child to communicate hostile or negative messages to the other parent
  • Making the child feel guilty for spending time with the other parent
  • Interrogating the child about what happened during time with the other parent
  • Alleging false allegations of child abuse or neglect
  • Providing false evidence of domestic violence



While this is certainly not a dispositive itemization of conduct that may constitute parental alienation, a family law judge will view conduct that is designed to damage the other parent’s relationship with the child as a negative indicator in terms of the parent’s appropriateness to be the primary residential parent.  By contrast, the court will view a parent favorably who avoids negative statements about the other parent in the child’s presence and encourages the child’s relationship with the other parent.  While there is no formula that dictates how a judge should weigh the twenty factors that are part of the best interest of the child standard, Florida judges give significant consideration to evidence that one parent is more likely to promote a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.


While a modification of parenting time that changes the primary residence after a divorce judgment requires a substantial and material change in circumstances, evidence of parental alienation by a parent has been upheld by Florida appellate court as being sufficient to modify the parenting time in a divorce judgment.  The bottom line is that parents that are able to put aside their animosity toward the other parent and put their child first will have an advantage in a contested Florida child custody case.



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Howard Iken is a Florida attorney that practices in family law, bankruptcy, and criminal law. He can be reached at