It’s no secret that divorce and separations tend to invoke a great deal of anxiety and emotion. For some, it is the most stressful event they will experience in their lifetimes. Add-on children and/or a custody dispute to the mix, and the potential for difficulty increases dramatically. The unfortunate reality is, despite the law’s desire for children to have healthy and happy relationships with both of their parents, that is not always the case. In some instances, the high-conflict, adversarial relationship between the parents spills over onto the children, resulting in severe psychological consequences. This is where Parental Alienation Syndrome comes in.

Parental alienation, a syndrome acknowledged in the mid-1980’s by child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner, refers to psychological manipulation of a child by saying and doing things that lead the child to look unfavorably on one parent or the other. If the child ultimately sides with the alienating parent and rejects a relationship with the other parent without good reason, alienation has set in.  This is a significant problem in family law courts today, and one taken increasingly seriously.

The Harm of Parental Alienation

Edward Kruck, Ph.D writes:

A survey taken at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ annual (2014) conference reported 98% agreement “in support of the basic tenet of parental alienation: children can be manipulated by one parent to reject the other parent who does not deserve to be rejected.”

“For the child, the biopsychosocial-spiritual effects of parental alienation are devastating. For both the alienated parent and child, the removal and denial of contact in the absence of neglect or abuse constitute cruel and unusual treatment. As a form of child maltreatment, parental alienation is a serious child protection matter as it undermines a basic principle of social justice for children: the right to know and be cared for by both of one’s parents.” 

Techniques and Tactics to Watch For

More specific ways in which a parent might strive for estrangement and alienation from the other parent include:

  • Disparaging comments about the other parent.
  • Interfering with visitation or other forms of contact.
  • Fostering and feeding rejection for the other parent via conflict creation, guilt, or making them pick sides.
  • Undermining the child’s relationship with the other parent.
  • Undermining the other parent’s role in the life of the child.

Alienation has a tendency to result in serious psychological impact on the children, including but not limited to:

  • Anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Impulsiveness
  • Separation anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Problems in school
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

The Long Term Effects

And unfortunately, once the child has fully succumbed to alienation and chosen a side, the circumstances often disintegrate rapidly.  Many times, to the alienated parent’s surprise, the child may express severe irrational or unjustifiable hatred towards them.  This is often without any sense of guilt and while maintaining absolute support for the alienating parent.  Typically, children suffering from parental alienation also maintain that their thoughts and opinions are entirely their own, despite evidence suggesting otherwise.

Because of the potential for such severe and long-lasting consequences, it is critical that if parental alienation is taking place, the matter be brought to the attention of the courts at once. Often, the alienating parent will lose custody of the children, or be restricted to supervised visitation.

Protecting Your Rights and Your Child

Keep in mind that parental alienation is extremely difficult to prove.  If you suspect that your child is being alienated against you, we encourage you to:

  • Keep a journal, detailing concerning comments made by the children and any interferences with visitation.
  • Maintain open communication with your children, remind them they are loved and valued.
  • Stick to and enforce all custody orders, including specifics regarding the sharing of information.

For more questions or concerns, please contact our experienced family law attorneys today for professional and comprehensive legal advice.