"Parental alienation" is a controversial concept in family courts in Florida and across the country. It revolves around the idea that one parent can brainwash children to wrongly believe they are being abused by the other parent, and it leaves family court judges with the difficult responsibility of determining whether abuse is actually taking place. If a judge is wrong, a child can be placed in danger or an innocent parent's life can be ruined.
Some critics believe that judges are too quick to reject legitimate abuse claims made during child custody battles, believing that one parent is simply trying to turn the child against the other one. For example, a pilot study on parental alienation found that 80 percent of cases where a mother accused a father of abuse ended in the mother losing custody. Experts believe findings like these show that some parents are being punished for reporting legitimate abuse.
Critics also point out that parental alienation cases are extremely subjective, meaning that the same facts and same court presentation can lead to widely different outcomes depending on the judge. Another problem is that there is dispute within the medical community regarding whether parental alienation is even a real mental disorder. Some child advocate organizations believe that parental alienation amounts to "court-licensed abuse."
Child custody disputes can be difficult and emotional even without claims of parental alienation. A family law attorney will sometimes suggest to a parent that mediation may be a preferable way to resolve one instead of having the decision made by a judge who will likely be unfamiliar with the family dynamics.
Source: ABC News, "Are Some Divorcing Parents Brainwashing Their Children? The Controversial Idea of Parental Alienation," Lauren Pearle, April 8, 2016