Caught Between Parents

Supporting children through the challenges of divorce

The Dulins vs. the Bakers

Can grandparents be guilty of parental alienation?

On July 15, 2011 The Dulins won custody of their two granddaughters in a custody hearing against the Bakers (no relation). The children had been residing with their paternal grandparents following the death of their mother, for which their father was inprisoned after a murder trial. From what I have read, this case has all of the earmarks of a case of parental alienation, albeit between two sets of grandparents rather than between two sets of parents. My read of the news, which is obviously, not a thorough examination of the case file, suggests that the parents of the father (the Bakers) have conspired to interfere with the relationship between the parents of the mother (the Dulins) and the children. Obviously, this is complicated by the fact that the father is in prison for murdering the mother of the girls. The recent 48 hours mystery show that aired this past weekend focused entirely on the murder case and did not touch on the custody dispute between the grandparents.

The judgment by the court, which I had the opportunity to read, changed custody of the two girls from the paternal grandparents to the maternal grandparents. The reasons for the reversal of custody sounded a lot like parental alienation (badmouthing, contact and communication interference, and so forth). The case demonstrates that parental alienation tactics can be used by grandparents and that sometimes the courts can see it for what it is. What we don't know is how much damage has been done to these girls who not only lost their mother to death and their father to prison but have now been subjected to a confusing and stressful custody dispute. I hope that the mental health professionals in their lives are able to provide them with a safe place to work through the myriad of confusing thoughts and feelings they must be experiencing.

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Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., researches parental alienation and children of divorce.

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