Emotional neglect is a type of abuse that can be thought of as a lack of something that should be present in a normal relationship. In the case of children, withholding love or nurturing can result in severe developmental or emotional problems, so emotional neglect is taken very seriously in custody cases. It is also possible for emotional neglect to exist in other relationships, although when the neglect occurs between adults it is often not considered a problem of the law because either party can presumably exit the relationship at any time. People who are experiencing or witnessing emotionally neglectful behavior cannot always specifically voice why the behavior is wrong or disturbing because they have not been taught to give voice to these concerns properly, so it is important for a professional to look at the situation and determine what is going on.
Children who experience emotional neglect can have severe problems later in life, so this type of neglect is a serious concern in custody cases. It is, however, hard to prove. Withholding physical items, like food or medicine, is easy to document, but withholding love is not. Given the problems with documentation, it is important to demonstrate that the neglect is having negative effects on the child, as the standards for expressing love differ among families and cultures. A person making accusations of neglect should keep in mind that those accusations are very serious and can destroy a family.
Between adults, emotional neglect is often the reason for dissolution of relationships like marriages. People who experience this type of neglect in an adult relationship often cannot voice to their partners why precisely the neglectful behavior is hurtful, which leaves them open to manipulation by the neglectful partner. For adults who are being neglected and emotionally abused, it is important to remember that a person does not need a reason to leave a hurtful relationship and there is no need to justify the choice to the neglectful partner.
Occasionally, there are cases in which an adult experiences emotional neglect but is not free to leave the situation. In these cases, the law may need to intervene. For example, a senior citizen who is being cared for by another adult may experience this type of neglect but be unable to terminate the relationship due to lack of funds or lack of access to help. It is extremely difficult to prove that emotional neglect exists in these cases, but because this type of neglect often comes with more material neglect, it is often not necessary to prove the emotional component.