The expression “parental alienation” triggers numerous emotions. Many in the psychological and legal communities absolutely reject the phrase. In some situations, judges who refuse to accept the terminology side with the parent who doesn’t use it. Whether or not you believe in parental alienation, it is important to recognize that in many divorce cases involving children, there is some form of “alienating behavior” carried out by one parent toward the other—and the psychological consequences on the children are often irreparable if not addressed.
Attorneys should be aware that they can help families avoid or minimize the effects of parental alienation. To do this, an attorney needs to understand what parental alienation is, what it does, who can be an alienator, what the consequences are, and what he or she can do to stop it.
What is Parental Alienation?
According to the late Jayne Major, PhD, author of Breakthrough Parenting, parental alienation occurs “any time one parent communicates in a derogatory way about the other parent in a manner that affects their child or children
emotionally, psychologically or even physically.”(1)
In the legal system, “parental alienation is a social dynamic, generally occurring due to divorce or separation, when a child expresses unjustiﬁed hatred or unreasonably strong dislike of one parent, making access by the rejected parent difﬁcult or impossible.”(2) Regardless of the deﬁnition, what is important to know as a lawyer is that if you or your client engages in any type of alienating behavior or if the other parent and his or her counsel does so, such behavior creates a conﬂict within the child and thus “removes” the child’s voice to like or love the criticized parent.(3) The results are damaging and, many times, permanent.
Examples of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation can take the following forms:
- Direct verbal communication between the parent and the child. A mother might tell her toddler, “You are losing all your friends from school because your father is a bad man. He met another woman and now we have to move away from your friends.” Such communication blames the other parent and makes the child hate that parent.