Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation - Family Law Attorney Sonya B. CoffmanParental alienation occurs when one parent’s actions cause a child to express hatred or a strong dislike of the other parent making that parent’s access to the child difficult or impossible. Parental alienation may be justified or unjustified.

Examples of justified parental alienation include removing a child from a physically or sexually abusive parent.

Unjustified parental alienation – also known as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) – occurs when a child expresses strong dislike of a parent when no known justification exists. Parental Alienation Syndrome often occurs in the context of a child custody dispute in which the alienating parent exerts influence on a child to dislike the other parent. Alienating influences can be direct, such as criticizing the other parent or blaming the other parent for the family’s breakup or financial problems. Alienating influences also can be indirect, such as playing on a child’s sympathy for the alienating parent (e.g., “I’m so lonely when you are gone”) or “bribing” a child to encourage the child to prefer the alienating parent.

Also characteristic in child custody disputes involving PAS are personality traits of the rejected parent that encourage rejection by a child. Examples include a lack of warmth and empathy with the child, rigid parenting, critical attitudes, demeaning comments about the child, “bullying” behavior, “talking down” to a child, and a lack of interest in areas that are important to a child.

Researchers have identified the following eight signs of Parental Alienation Syndrome:

  • Campaign of Hostility. The alienating parent and the alienated child may jointly wage a campaign of hostility against the rejected parent in the form of criticism, sarcasm and other types of personal attacks.
  • Inadequate Rationale for the Hostility. The alienated child may offer weak or frivolous explanations for his or her dislike of the targeted parent.
  • Absence of Ambivalent Feelings. In a normal parent-child relationship, it is appropriate for a child to experience both positive and negative feelings towards a parent. In PAS situations, attitudes toward the rejected parent lack appropriate balance. The alienated parent is always seen as evil.
  • Alleged Independent Judgment. The alienating parent typically claims that the child’s feelings towards the rejected parent are due to the child’s independent judgment, rather than the alienating parent’s campaign of hostility.
  • Unconditional Support of the Alienating Parent. The alienated child typically aligns unconditionally with the alienating parent.
  • Absence of Guilt. The alienated child typically fails to display appropriate feelings of guilt about his or her antagonistic behavior. The alienated parent’s feelings are generally ignored. The affection, gifts and/or child support provided by the rejected parent are also often disregarded.
  • Words Borrowed from the Alienator. The alienated child typically utilizes the alienating parent’s stories and explanations to explain what is wrong with the targeted parent. These “borrowed scenarios” may include topics and words that are way beyond the knowledge base appropriate to the child’s age.
  • Animosity to Others Associated with the Rejected Parent. The campaign to alienate the rejected parent may extend to his or her friends and relatives whom the alienated child also may view with hostility and treat with contempt.

Custody disputes involving Parental Alienation Syndrome are complex and frequently require the expertise of a qualified licensed professional counselor and/or a psychologist. Let us help you develop a strategy for dealing with these complex legal issues. Because . . . family matters.