In January 2017, Ms. Goldblatt tried a case in the Circuit Court for Carroll County under the new law that recognizes what is known as a “de facto parent.” A de facto parent is a non-biological, non-adoptive parent that either a) regularly performed a majority of the caretaking functions for a child/children or b) regularly performed a share of caretaking functions at least as great as that of the parent with whom the child primarily lived. In this particular case, Ms. Goldblatt represented the ex-fiancé (Sherrie T.) of the biological mother (Tina S.). When the minor child was only eighteen (18) months old, Sherrie T. moved in with Tina S. and her son. While the child’s other mother (Toni M.) initially had regular visitation, Tina S. and Sherrie T. have been his primary caretakers. After a daylong trial, the Court determined that Sherrie T. met all four requirements to award access to the minor child:
1. That the biological or adoptive parent consented to, and fostered, the petitioner’s formation and establishment of a parent-like relationship with the child;
2. That the petitioner and the child lived together in the same household;
3. That the petitioner assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s case education and development, including contributing towards the child’s support, without expectation of financial compensation; and
4. That the petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded dependent relationship parental in nature.
In addition to determining that Sherrie T. could petition the court for custody, the Court awarded Tina S. and Sherrie T. joint legal and physical custody of the minor child, with only visitation to Toni M.
This is one of the most challenging (and costly) types of custody matters. Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of the psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent or other family members. It is a distinctive and widespread form of psychological abuse and family violence—towards both the child and the rejected family members—that occurs almost exclusively in association with family separation or divorce (particularly where legal action is involved).
Some of the signs of parental alienation include:
1. The child lacks attachment to a parent;
2. In relationship to that parent, the child displays "grandiosity, entitlement, absence of empathy, haughty, arrogant behavior and a delusional belief system about a parent being inadequate or abusive.
3. The child engages in splitting, believing that one parent is entirely good and the other parent is entirely bad.
4. False narrative: A parent who experienced feelings of inadequacy or abandonment in their childhood can have those feelings re-triggered by a divorce or breakup. In response, that parent can reenact a false narrative related to their own childhood, where the child's other parent symbolizes an inadequate or abusive parent, the child symbolizes a victim of the other parent, and the parent using harmful parenting practices symbolizes a good parent ostensibly trying to protect their child.
Ms. Goldblatt tried her first case involving the alienation of the minor children’s father in 2009. After intensive research on this issue as well as consultations with psychologists in this field, there is a clear process to litigating a parental alienation case. In order to prove that a parent is psychologically manipulating a child is through the use of a Best Interest Attorney and a psychologist for the minor children and a psychological evaluation of both parents. A Best Interest Attorney is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the minor child. This attorney has the authority to speak to all medical practitioners, educators and any other individuals that have regular contact with the minor child. It is vital that a neutral third party represent the minor child and have unfettered and unbiased access to information on the minor child.
Both the minor child(ren) and the parents require a full psychological evaluation. The minor child must be permitted to speak freely in a safe environment without the fear. This can be a fear of hurting one or both of the parents’ feelings or in some cases, punishment by one of the parents. It is also imperative to evaluate both parents by an independent psychologist. It is up to the court to determine what is in the best interest of the minor child(ren) and if one of the parents has a psychological disorder that is harmful to the child(ren), the court must take that into consideration.
Parental alienation is not a recognized syndrome, however, alienating a parent from a child does occurrence in many custody cases.