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Parental Alienation: When a Parent Turns a Child Against the Other Parent

by | Jan 8, 2021 | Firm News |

When parents get divorced, they have to be especially cautious about not bringing their children into the midst of parental disputes. Being involved in disputes between their parents can be traumatic for kids of all ages. Unfortunately, some parents seek to turn their children against the other parent by engaging in conduct that has been termed to be parental alienation. Such conduct can harm children and their sense of stability for many years to come.

What does parental alienation look like?

The Psychiatric Times examines parental alienation and how it affects sufferers. Parental alienation happens when one parent either tries to turn a child, either directly or indirectly against the other parent. The alienated parent suffers, and so does the child.  Parents feel powerless to change a child’s mind after the other parent has manipulated the child’s point of view, typically by disparaging the victimized parent.  The child may suffer from mild, moderate or severe levels of parental alienation syndrome (PAS). In extreme cases, children may refuse to interact at all with the alienated parent.

Parental Alienation Syndrome can have long-term effects

Studies show that children who have suffered from PAS often struggle with other relationships later in life. For example, they have trouble trusting others and connecting with peers. Experts say that, in general, lacking a healthy parental relationship with one or both parents can cause instability in children’s lives for many years. Sufferers of PAS also struggle with the scars of child psychological abuse, which many courts consider PAS to be.

Parental Alienation in Custody Cases:

Courts have become very aware of the issue of parental alienation in custody disputes.  “One of the most important factors for any court to consider in determining custody is whether and to what extent each parent will facilitate a relationship between the children and the other parent.  A parent who engages in parental alienation is demonstrating the exact opposite kind of behavior, and courts do not look kindly on this,” says attorney Maureen A. Dunn.

If claims of parental alienation are alleged, courts will frequently appoint a neutral forensic evaluator, usually a psychologist or psychiatrist who is tasked with interviewing the parties, their children, and other collateral sources, such as therapists, teachers, guidance counselors, or family members.  The forensic evaluator then prepares a report summarizing his or her findings and often making recommendations to the judge as to how custody should be resolved.  Courts tend to rely on these evaluations to decide whether parental alienation or mental health issues exist and how these considerations should be addressed in the judge’s decision on custody.

Often, in cases of parental alienation, the forensic evaluator will recommend family therapy and/or reunification therapy, with a goal of repairing the damaged relationship between the children and the alienated parent.  “The sooner that this process can get underway, the better,” says Attorney Dunn.  “It is harder to repair a relationship when there has been an extended breakdown, where the parent and the children haven’t communicated or seen each other in months.”

If you believe that parental alienation is happening in your family, do not hesitate to speak with a family law attorney about your legal options.  In these cases, it is critical to work toward a therapeutic solution as soon as possible.