What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental divorce or separation can have significant psychological effects on children. The life they know is coming to an end, and they do not know what to expect moving forward. Something that can make a divorce even more damaging to a child’s emotional and mental wellbeing is parental alienation, or a set of behaviors that make a child feel like he or she must choose between mother and father. Parental alienation can destroy a child’s relationship with a parent, and cause long-lasting psychological harm.

Are You Alienating Your Co-Parent?

Parental alienation may not occur deliberately. A parent may not realize that what they are saying or how they act around children is sending a message that speaks ill about the other parent. A parent can feel inadequate or insecure after a separation, especially if he or she did not receive custody. These feelings can easily translate into parental alienation, in which parents create the expectation that a child must choose between mother and father or love one parent more than the other.

The first step toward avoiding parental alienation is to be aware of the problem. Once you know some early signs of parental alienation, you can better detect if you are alienating your co-parent. For example, talking badly about your co-parents choices, new love interests, or parenting style in front of your children can put the parent in a bad light. Keeping your children away from one parent or forbidding your children to look at photos or talk about the parent is also parental alienation. Separate your relationship with your co-parent from your relationship with your child, and focus on the needs of the child instead of your own need to vent about your conflict with the other parent.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

Many custody battles result in a child suffering parental alienation syndrome (PAS). While parental alienation refers to a parent’s actions and abusive behaviors, PAS describes a child’s behaviors. A child can develop PAS when a parent manipulates or bullies him or her into choosing between parents. Parental alienation deprives children of the right to love from both parents and showing love for both parents in their own way. It presents a roadblock to a child’s innate desire to love and be loved by both parents, ultimately causing significant psychological damage.

Symptoms of PAS vary depending on how badly parental alienation has affected the child and how aggressively the parent vilified the target parent. In extreme cases, a child may grow to hate or reject the other parent. Children’s views of the target parent become expressively negative, demonizing the parent and making him or her seem evil. The most common symptom is a child aggressively opposing contact with another parent or expressing hatred for a parent for no logical reason.

The damaging mental and emotional effects of PAS can be tragic and last well into adulthood. One parent’s manipulation, lies, and undermining of another parent can make a child feel torn between parents and eventually distanced from the target parent. This can sever relationships and take away important years of bonding with one parent, potentially causing permanent relationship damage. Parental alienation can make children feel angry, depressed, and scared and can remove the opportunity to live a healthy and happy life.

Parental Alienation Claims in Custody Court

If you suspect your co-parent is alienating your child’s affections from you, you may have a legal claim against him or her. Taking a parental alienation claim to court can stop the problem early and prevent your child from developing PAS. However, it can also further drive a wedge between you and your co-parent. Speak with an attorney to discuss whether a parental alienation claim is the best option for you and your family.