Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a mental condition in which a child, usually one whose parents are involved in a high-conflict separation or divorce, allies himself or herself strongly with the “favored” or “alienating” parent and rejects their relationship with the “target” or “alienated” parent without legitimate justification. Parental alienation may occur before or during the course of litigation involving children.

Parental alienation is caused when the “favored” or “alienating” parent uses specific alienating behaviors that are aimed at pushing the child and/or children to reject their relationship with the “target” or “alienated” parent. Parental alienation can also be encouraged and promoted by surrogate alienators, such as family members, the new spouse of the “alienating” parent, family members of the “alienating” parent, or a close friend whom the “alienating” parent gives access to the child and/or children. The alienating behaviors are used by the “favored” or “alienating” parent, which may vary case by case, and are aimed at indoctrinating the child and/or children to dislike and/or fear the “target” or “alienated” parent.

Parental alienation occurs when one parent convinces the child and/or children that the other parent is not trustworthy, lovable, or caring. As a result, the child and/or children reject their relationship with the other parent. These behaviors can negatively affect the “target” or “alienated” parent’s time-sharing and often damage and impede the child’s relationships with “target” or “alienated” parent’s family members. The theory is that there are three levels of parental alienation: mild, moderate, and severe. The severity of the parental alienation is determined by the intensity of the child’s and/or children’s refusal to have contact with the “target” or “alienated” parent.

The essential feature of parental alienation is that the child and/or children’s rejection of the “alienated” parent is far out of proportion to anything that the parent has done to justify or explain the rejection. Said another way, the child’s and/or children’s rejection of the “alienated” parent is without legitimate justification. Conversely, if a child’s and/or children’s rejection of a parent is based upon a legitimate justification, such as physical abuse or severe neglect by that parent, that constitutes estrangement and not parental alienation.

The potential long-term effects of parental alienation, which is equated to child abuse in the form of psychological maltreatment by experts in this field, may include: conflicts with parents, loneliness, memory loss, school dysfunction, conflict with peer relationships, anxiety, regressive behaviors, social identity problems, diminished attention span, heightened fantasy life, sibling conflict, lack of friends, increased technology use as an escape, feelings of isolation, psychosomatic disorder, diminished activity, poor executive functioning, disheveled living space, weight issues, eating disorders, poor eating habits, poor body image, sexual promiscuity, speech problems, substance abuse, sleep problems and depression.

When courts find evidence of parental alienation, counseling and other therapeutic tools, including programs specifically designed to treat parental alienation, are often recommended and/or ordered by the courts. The court’s primary goal is to promote the best interest of the child and/or children and repair the relationship between the alienated child and/or children with the “target” or “alienated” parent. If parental alienation is proven in a case, it can justify a post-judgment request for a modification of time-sharing and/or parental responsibility.

In proving or defending claims of parental alienation in your family law litigation, it is essential to staff your case with the appropriate professionals and experts, including court-appointed neutral professionals/experts. These professionals are necessary to conduct investigations and evaluations to prove or disprove the existence of parental alienation and make recommendations for the treatment of parental alienation. The professionals generally required in family law litigation involving parental alienation include Guardian Ad Litems, Social Investigators, Psychological Evaluators, Psychological Experts, and Parental Alienation Experts.

The Law Offices of Hertz • Sager can provide legal guidance to parents dealing with parental alienation issues. This includes helping you staff your case with the necessary court-appointed neutral professionals and experts required to help prove your case.

Please contact us either online or by telephone at 305.444.3323. We will schedule a consultation with you so we can discuss how we can help.

Suggested resources for parents or family members interested in understanding more about parental alienation are: Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals (Edited by Demosthenes Lorandos, William Bernet and S. Richard Sauber); and Children Held Hostage – Second Edition (Stanley S. Clawar and Brynne V. Rivlin).

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