In many cases, particularly in cases where the parties have just recently separated, children are placed in the middle of two contentious parents who are fighting over time with the children.  Studies have shown that this is commonly due to one parent’s manipulation of the children to induce them to favor one parent over the other.  In family law we call this parental alienation.

Parental alienation leads to “strong to extreme alignments” with one parent.[1]  These strong alignments can be a result of: 1) a need to protect a needy or depressed parent; 2) a need to avoid rejection of a dominant parent; and/or 3) a need to hold onto the parent that the child is most afraid of losing due to that parent’s casual involvement with the child. [2]  For those children that carry extreme alignments to one parent, the children will often display bizarre and destructive behavior and negatively interpret and distort the target parent’s character.[3]

Recently, in Michigan, a judge found the children in contempt of court due to the children’s reluctance to talk to or spend time with their father without reasonable justification.[4]  The judge found that the case of alienation was so severe that she sentenced the children to juvenile detention where the siblings were to remain separated and their mother was not to have access to them all summer.[5]  While this is an extreme example that does not happen in Maricopa County (to my knowledge), we do have a select number of judges that are willing to send parents to jail for their failure to abide by the court order requiring a child to exercise certain ordered parenting time, even if the children don’t want to go.  Many judges have found that they must hold parents accountable.  Judges have found success by sanctioning the parents for failing to abide by the orders of the court which in turn increases the likelihood that unacceptable behavior by the children (and the parent) will stop.

If you have been alienated from your children and as a result you are not receiving the parenting time that you were ordered, know that there are options and ways to enforce your parenting time rights.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact our Family Law Section at  480.461.5300,  log on to,  or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.


[1] James N. Bow, Jonathan W. Gould & James R. Flens , Examining Parental Alienation in Child Custody Cases: A Survey of Mental health and Legal Professionals, The  Am. Journal of Family Therapy 37; 127-145 (2009)

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Debra Cassens Weiss, Judge Orders ‘brainwashed’ kids to live in juvenile facility for refusing to interact with their dad, ABA Journal (2015),

[5] Id.