It is generally important for children in Arizona to benefit from the presence of both parents in their lives, including after a high-conflict divorce. However, this issue can be complicated in the presence of abuse, including domestic violence against a parent or physical, sexual or mental abuse of a child. The issue of parental alienation is raised in court in contentious custody cases, but the realities behind such claims can be more complex than they first appear.

The vast majority of divorcing parents are able to achieve a negotiated agreement on child custody and parenting time. Even when financial issues or other problems are heavily contested, negotiation and mediation processes can enable both parents to work together to meet the needs of their children. Contested custody cases are already more likely to involve claims of abuse, and claims of parental alienation are often used as a sort of defense to abuse allegations. While false allegations of abuse can be devastating to a family, domestic violence advocates warn that serious issues of abuse may be dismissed under the guise of preventing parental alienation.

One study that examined 238 cases of purported alienation noted that fathers accused of abuse won their cases 72 percent of the time when they responded with an allegation of parental alienation against the mother. These included cases in which domestic violence against an adult partner was alleged as well as cases involving child abuse. Most disturbingly, fathers won all of the cases in which judges acknowledged that the abuse was factual as was the alienation.

Parents in abusive situations are often desperate to protect their children. A family law attorney can work with a parent to provide strong representation in a child custody case, help to substantiate abuse allegations and present documentation and evidence indicating the harms caused by contact with an abuser.