It has been observed by our court that “the natural right of visitation
jointly enjoyed by the noncustodial parent and the child is more precious than any property right” and that “the best interests of the child would be furthered by the child being nurtured and guided by both of the natural parents”. Indeed, a custodial parent’s interference with the relationship between a child and a noncustodial parent has been said to be “an act so inconsistent with the best interests of the child as to per se raise a strong probability that the offending party is unfit to act as a custodial parent”. Such interference with the relationship between a child and a noncustodial parent can take many forms, the obvious being the outright denial of visitation by making the child physically unavailable at the appointed time. However, the instant case involves a more subtle and insidious form of interference, a form of interference which, in many respects, has the potential for greater and more permanent damage to the emotional psyche of a young child than other forms of interference; namely, the psychological poisoning of a young person’s mind to turn him or her away from the noncustodial parent. In this case, if left with their mother, the children would have no relationship with their father given the mother’s constant and consistent single-minded teaching of the children that their father is dangerous. She has demonstrated that she is unable and unwilling to support the father’s visitation; and it was, therefore, an improvident exercise of discretion to deny the father’s petition for a change of custody.
The parties herein were married on August 21, 1982, and had four children together. The father left the marital residence in November 1988, and a divorce action was commenced the following month. Following a trial on the issues of equitable distribution, support, and maintenance held in April 1991, a memorandum decision was issued on June 1, 1992. Although the father had, during the early stages of the divorce action, stipulated to the mother having custody of the children, he moved, by order to show cause dated June 17, 1992, inter alia, for a change of custody to him, with the mother to be given only supervised visitation based upon what he claimed to be the mother’s “bizarre and dangerous behavior” which was “calculated to destroy the children’s relationship with him”.
In primary part, the father referred to the mother’s persistent and uncorroborated allegations that he was sexually abusing their children, her continuing to make new claims of abuse even though all other claims had been determined to be unfounded. He suggested the possibility that the mother herself may have caused the youngest child’s vaginal and rectal area to become reddened prior to the mother’s bringing her to the hospital. The father further noted the mother’s ongoing interference with visitation by various other means, including making accusations of sexual abuse and warning him not to engage in such activities in the presence of the children. In the father’s view, a change in custody was critical to the children’s well-being and mental health.