Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

Children Can be the Pawns of Divorcing Parents

In divorce, children are sometimes the biggest losers, pawns in parental wars for their affection and loyalty. At best, these are sad situations. At worst, when a divorcing parent actually succeeds in turning a child against the other parent, the heartbreak family lawyers know as parental alienation syndrome results.


What I know about this I’ve learned much from clients–mothers and fathers alike–whose children have been brainwashed into taking the other parent’s side in the breakup.


Clients like these popped to mind when I came across a case decided a few weeks ago by the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District, in Springfield. As with many divorce cases, a lot of this one was about money, but it also involved what seemed to me a blatant attempt at parental alienation. Fortunately, it failed, and I couldn’t help cheering for the child who foiled it and for the courts, which went to unusual lengths to protect him from it.


The child was “Frank”, 14 now, last name omitted here to protect him from possible embarrassment. In the run-up to their divorce, his father, “Juan”, habitually used vulgar language to demean his mother, “Rose”, in front of him. When Frank objected, Juan reacted by threatening his son, telling him, for instance, that if he ended up living with Rose, they’d be out on the street.


Juan’s behavior took its toll on Frank, who developed compulsive behaviors, attributed by a counselor to his anxiety and insecurity. Still, the boy resisted his father’s efforts to undermine his mother and to get him to participate in haranguing her.


The Greene County trial court in Springfield that granted Juan and Rose’s divorce a couple of years ago took due note of Juan’s history of verbally and emotional abuse. Deciding it was in Frank’s best interest to have only limited contact with his father, it granted Juan just two six-hour periods of supervised visitation a month.


Rose not only got sole legal and physical custody of Frank, but, to boot, the court took the rare step of saying that she did not even have to confer with her ex-husband in any matters concerning Frank, including his health, education and welfare.


The Appeals Court took the exact same view and upheld every aspect of the custody arrangement.


Usually courts strive to grant children as much time as possible with both divorced parents. Indeed, it is the official position of the State of Missouri to provide for as much time as possible for both parents.  Rarely do they go this far to shield a child from an abusive one, and I believe they did right by Rose and Frank.


As I read the case, Juan was on a deliberate campaign to enlist Frank in his pitched verbal battle against Rose. He didn’t succeed in wooing his child away, as some divorcing unconsciously do just by playing on their children’s sympathy. That’s why I counsel them to seek professional therapy for their divorce grievances rather than air them to their children.


Parents whose children have been manipulated against them by whatever means face the same tough choices if they think they want custody anyway. I point out to them that an alienated child can be a challenge to live with, even a threat not just to their emotional health but sometimes their physical safety as well. In extreme cases, a client and I have sometimes decided together not to seek custody after all.


Deliberately letting a child go is one of life’s most wrenching experiences. I never advise it lightly.


Thanks to Frank’s steadfastness,  that was a choice Rose didn’t have to face.