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What is Parental Alienation?

iStock_000016929678_ExtraSmallChild custody issues can be contentious and stressful for parents and children alike. However, when parents have a strained or adversarial relationship with each other, things can be even more difficult.

“Parental alienation” is the term for when one parent actively undermines the child’s relationship with the other parent by denigrating the other parent in front of the child. In essence, parental alienation means one parent is taking calculated steps to isolate the child from the other parent through words and conduct. These actions create a division between the child and the other parent, and serious alienation can cause estrangement or even hostility between the child and the other parent.

Parental alienation is particularly troubling because it can have long-term, harmful psychological effects on the child. By repeatedly keeping the child away from the other parent or telling them that the other parent does not want to see them, the child’s future relationship with the other parent will be forever altered.

Parental alienation does not always come in the form of direct parent-to-child conversations. Examples of parental alienation include:

  • Parent-to-child comments that speak negatively of the other parent. This may include blaming the other parent for the divorce or separation, saying the other parent does not love the child, or making harsh criticism of the other parent’s conduct.
  • Allowing others to make negative comments about the other parent in front of the child. These comments most often come from grandparents or siblings.
  • Involving the child in the divorce/custody case unnecessarily is another form of parental alienation. One parent may share false or distorted details about the case or falsify the other parent’s position or statements during the case.

At the end of the day, parental alienation comes down to one person trying to turn the child against the other by making the other parent the “bad parent.” Often this happens by lying to the child, misrepresenting the facts, or misleading the child by leaving out certain details or context. This leads the child to believe that there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to be a parent, and that the other parent is not doing the right thing.

After one parent has repeatedly given the child a negative view of the other parent, the child may no longer want to spend time with the other parent; some psychiatrists refer to this as Parental Alienation Syndrome. The main thing that distinguishes Parental Alienation Syndrome is that the child has adopted the parent’s way of thinking and no longer has a positive relationship with the other parent.

Parental alienation can become an issue in custody or divorce cases if it is brought to a judge. Depending on the severity of the alienation, it may require therapy or increasing the time spend with the alienated parent. In more severe cases, a judge may even want to remove the child from the alienating parent’s home. (However, in order to do that, it is usually necessary to conduct a thorough psychological evaluation, which takes time to complete.)

Parental alienation cases can be very complex, and it is important to hire a family attorney who has you and your children’s best interests at heart. Contact the Law Office of Heath L. Baker to schedule your free consultation.