Parental Alienation Basics: What You Need to Know

Parental Alienation“Parental Alienation” refers to a condition where a child strongly allies himself or herself with one parent, while simultaneously rejecting the other parent, without legitimate justification for doing so.  Often, parental alienation is encouraged by the “favored” parent to reject the “targeted” parent.  Children avoid conflict by complying with the alienating parent’s plan.  Not surprisingly, parental alienation causes incredible pain and hardship to thousands of families each year.

Essentially, when children engage in parental alienation, they create an alternate reality, wherein the target parent is viewed as a monster.  The targeting parent receives no allowance for being human, and one capable of making mistakes like any other; their actions and statements are used against them by the child to “prove” their position the parent is unworthy of contact or interaction.

Criteria for Diagnosing Parental Alienation

There are eight different criteria for diagnosing parental alienation.  These criteria include the following:

  • An ongoing campaign of denigrating the targeted parent;
  • Lack of ambivalence on behalf of the child;
  • Rationalizations for rejecting the target parent that are frivolous in nature;
  • Supporting the alienating parent against the target parent reflexively;
  • A child’s absence of feelings of guilt over the mistreatment or exploitation of the target parent;
  • Reliance on borrowed scenarios in targeting one parent; as well as
  • Spreading animosity toward the target parent’s extended family and friends.

Children engage in “independent thinker phenomenon.”  This means they maintain they, themselves created the reasons for the parental alienation, rather than being provided these reasons by the alienating parent.  The children display viciousness and a complete lack of remorse for their behavior.  Additionally, their list of reasons for parental alienation emboldens them to behave with extreme hostility directed towards the targeted parent.

In parental alienation, one parent actively fosters the parental alienation of the other.  There are a number of strategies targeting parents employ to accomplish parental alienation.  These include the following behaviors:

  • Portraying the target parent as unloving;
  • Casting the target parent as unsafe;
  • Declaring the target parent as unavailable;
  • Otherwise badmouthing the target parent;
  • Limiting contact with the target parent;
  • Encouraging replacement of the target parent;
  • Refusing to allow discussion of or pictures of the target parent in the alienating parent’s environment;
  • Encouraging mistrust of the target parent;
  • Undermining the target parent’s authority;
  • Forcing the child to choose the alienating parent; as well as
  • Belittling and limiting contact with both the extended family and friends of the target parent.

Of note, an alienating parent uses some combination of these actions.  However, it is not necessary to rely on all listed tactics to achieve parental alienation.

Parental Alienation as Child Abuse

Scholars agree parental alienation is a form of child abuse.  Alienating parent conduct is tantamount to psychological maltreatment.  It creates a false belief in children that the targeted parent is both dangerous and unworthy of a child’s love.  This results in a child developing low self-esteem, self-hatred, lack of trust, as well as depression.  Finally, parental alienation is associated with subsequent substance abuse.

Child Custody and Divorce

If you are divorcing, the mental and physical health and well-being of your children is paramount.  If you suspect your soon to be, or current ex-spouse is encouraging parental alienation, steps can be taken to nip this behavior in the bud.  Parental alienation is painful for both parent and child.  Contact the Law Office of Eric C. Cheshire, P.A. today at 561-655-8844 to discuss your case.  Eric C. Cheshire has extensive experience handling family law cases, including cases of parental alienation.  This experience can be invaluable to you and your family, as you redefine your relationships during and post-divorce.

Additional Reading

9 Tips for Great Co-Parenting

What is My Parental Responsibility after a Florida Divorce?