When one parent purposefully poisons their child against the other parent, the term used is parental alienation. The parent may attempt to convince their child:

  • They aren’t safe when they are with their other parent;
  • The other parent is tired of them;
  • The other parent will have harsh restrictions on their activities;
  • The other parent replaced them with a new child or new family;
  • Their other parent doesn’t loves them.

Parental alienation can be something small, like telling a child to call to check in with one parent during visitation with the other parent.  The message being sent to the child is that the one parent cannot be trusted to take care of them.  But parental alienation can be on a larger scale, where one parent is specifically telling the child that the other parent no longer loves them.

While the most typical cases of parental alienation are by biological parents, stepparents can also cause alienation of the other parent.  When trying to build a relationship with the child, a stepparent could alienate the parent intentionally or unintentionally.  Is does not matter if the alienation was intentional or unintentional, it could have a serious negative impact on your custody case.  Parental alienation by a parent or stepparent will always have a negative impact on your child.

Psychology

The term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was coined by psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985.  His belief was that parents were purposefully sabotaging their child’s relationship with their other parent and as a result, the child exhibited behaviors that could be observed.  According to Gardner, PAS was almost exclusively seen in situations where parents were in the process of divorcing and fighting over custody of the child.  He believed that one parent would brainwash the child against their other parent, eventually leading the child to also vilify the parent.

Garner developed his theory based on children he was seeing in his private practice where he was concerned about the number of cases he had with allegations of child sexual abuse that were untrue.  Garner believed that mothers were most likely to be brainwashing their child when they are the custodial parent.  He also believed that the mothers were convincing their children that their fathers had sexually abused them.

Over the years, Gardner published numerous books and articles about this theory regarding PAS, custody fights, and the ramifications on the children.  Gardner has been called to testify as an expert in more than 400 child custody cases, has developed coping strategies for PAS, and even created a board game for children whose parents are going through a divorce.  Despite all this, Gardner’s theory has been highly criticized.

Opposition to Parental Alienation Syndrome

The American Psychiatric Association and all the other medical and professional associations do not recognize PAS.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM), the universal authority in the United States on psychiatric diagnosis, does not list PAS as a diagnosis.

The common belief is that PAS is nothing more than junk science based on skewed research by Gardner.  A syndrome is “a grouping of signs and symptoms based on their frequent co-occurrence, which may suggest a common underlying pathogenesis, course, familial pattern, or treatment selection.”  The belief is the PAS and its effects are not heightened to the level required to be a syndrome.

Another argument against PAS is that it is sexist.  The theory is based on mothers alienating their child from their father and not fathers alienating their child from the mother.  At the same time Gardner was writing about his theory of PAS, he was also writing about pedophilia, arguing that everyone was born with the tendencies of pedophilia, and that society overreacts to pedophilia.  Because of these two very differing theories being researched by the same person at the same time, Gardner’s theory of PAS had little credibility with his peers.

Despite the varying questions and theories about the full effects of parental alienation on the child, it is clear that it does affect children.  Not only does it affect the child, but there are legal consequences for parental alienation also.

The Legal Consequences of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation, despite not being a legitimate disorder, is a factor in custody fights.  Evidence can be presented in court about parental alienation to explain a child’s behaviors, their testimony, and to paint the parent alienating the child in a negative light.

When making a determination about custody, the judge looks at the best interest of the child.  When evidence is presented in court showing that one parent is alienating the child from their other parent, the judge would typically rule that it is not in the best interest of the child to remain in the care of a parent who is manipulating them.

What do you have to show the court?  Witnesses that would be able to testify to the changes in your child’s relationship and attitudes toward you, a therapist that agrees your child has been alienated from you, or any other pieces of evidence that might show parental alienation.  In one case, a parent had listed their new spouse as the parent on school paperwork.  The judge in that case felt that the paperwork was compelling enough to make a determination that parental alienation was happening.

Signs of Parental Alienation

If you have any concern about your child and parental alienation, you should look for the following signs:

  • Your child is avoiding visiting you;
  • Your child also avoids visiting your side of the family;
  • Your child is showing a great deal of anger toward you without reason;
  • Your child always sides with the other parent;
  • Your child does not want to talk about good memories of your times together.

If your child is exhibiting any of the signs above, you should consider taking your child to see therapist.  You should also contact your attorney to let them know that you suspect parental alienation so that they can address your suspicions through legal avenues.  If you are comfortable, you could also discuss your concerns about parental alienation with your child’s other parent.  They could be alienating your child from you without being aware of what they are doing.