Behind Baldwin's Tirade

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 4:25 PM

April 20, 2007 — -- Sometimes explosions can reveal as much as they destroy.

While Alec Baldwin's shockingly abusive tirade against his 11-year-old daughter may have devasted her and ruined his chances in his bitter custody fight with ex-wife Kim Basinger, it illuminates a common but very controversial issue in family law: parental alienation.

In a statement issued today, Baldwin himself put it front and center. He said he was "sorry for losing my temper with my child" but claims that he has "been driven to the edge by parental alienation for many years now."

According to the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization website, this is any behavior that "can effectively alienate a child from a parent." Examples include "speaking negatively about a parent to or in front of a child and interfering with communication and visitation."

By that qualifier, both Baldwin and Basinger might be guilty. In their contentious six-year custody battle for their daughter Ireland, they have publicly spoken "negatively" of each other, trading charges of physical abuse, mental instability and disregarding court orders.

But while no one would defend Baldwin's behavior, his suggestion that he was "driven" to erupt by Basinger's efforts to alienate him from their daughter doesn't surprise divorce attorneys and people familiar with family law. It is a charge most commonly leveled against the parent with primary custody by the "non-custodial" parent and that is most commonly fathers. (Ireland lives with her mother.)

According to Robert Segal, a Chicago divorce attorney who frequently writes and lectures on child custody issues, fathers charging parental alienation "is a way of overcoming the presumption on behalf of mothers" that most often results in their being granted custody.

Ronald Isaacs, founder of the Fathers' Rights Foundation, adds that "this is the grounds where fathers do win custody, where they prove that the other parent is trying to alienate the child and interfere with visitation."

How does parental alienation happen? Segal says "overscheduling" is a popular method of creating distance between a child and the non-custodial parent. "The custodial parent says "You can't see Susie this Saturday because she's got a soccer game at 2 and a baseball game at 3 and Sunday, she's got karate practice.' People always go to court over that."