Navigating Parental Alienation

Cari Rincker Family/Matrimonial Law Leave a Comment

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation occurs when a child shows extreme preference for one parent (the “Preferred Parent”) over another parent (the “Rejected Parent”) as a result of efforts by the Preferred Parent to alienate the child from the Rejected Parent.  Parental Alienation can significantly complicate a divorce and the accompanying allocation of shared parental responsibilities.

Parental alienation is often characterized as brainwashing, indoctrinating, manipulating, or programming a child.  Along those lines, a Preferred Parent’s efforts can include the following behaviors: telling the child lies about, or badmouthing, the Rejected Parent; pressuring the child to show allegiance or loyalty to the Preferred Parent; blaming the Rejected Parent for the divorce and other hardships; limiting the child’s contact with, or interfering in the child’s communication with, the Rejected Parent; showing disapproval when the child has positive interactions with the Rejected Parent; asking the child to keep secrets from, or spy on, the Rejected Parent; and withholding information from the Rejected Parent about the child’s school, social commitments, health, and extracurriculars. These behaviors, when repeated, can result in a child rejecting and resisting any contact with the Rejected Parent.

The concept of Parental Alienation has been rigorously studied and researched by psychologists for over thirty-five years.  Psychologists have concluded that Parental Alienation can cause severe psychological harm to the child affected, and that such alienating behaviors are a form of child abuse.  The negative effects of Parental Alienation can follow a child into adulthood.

How is Parental Alienation Diagnosed?

Psychologists use a five-factor model to diagnose Parental Alienation, which looks for the following:

  • Factor 1: The child resists a relationship or contact with the Rejected Parent
  • Factor 2: The child had a positive relationship with the Rejected Parent previously
  • Factor 3: The Rejected Parent has not abused, neglected, mistreated, or abandoned the child
  • Factor 4: The Preferred Parent has exhibited alienating behaviors
  • Factor 5: The child is exhibiting the behaviors of an alienated child, such as demonstrating an allegiance towards the Preferred Parent and repeating the negative things he/she has heard about the Rejected Parent

How Can Parental Alienation Affect a Divorce Proceeding?

 Parental Alienation, if proven, can factor into a court’s decisions on child custody and parenting time.  While most state’s family law statutes do not mention Parental Alienation, many include something similar.  For example, in Illinois, the “best interest” factors that a judge may consider when allocating parental responsibilities in a divorce include “the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.”

How Can I Prove Parental Alienation?

While Parental Alienation can be a significant factor in a judge’s decision-making, proving it is no easy matter.  Courts will not entertain claims of Parental Alienation without evidence to substantiate the allegations.  To that end, a Rejected Parent should keep detailed records of circumstances evidencing Parental Alienation, including, for example:

  • Incidents where the Preferred Parent refused the Rejected Parent’s request to see or speak with the child
  • Incidents where the Preferred Parent interfered with agreed parenting time
  • Incidents where the Preferred Parent did not share relevant information about the child with the Rejected Parent
  • Incidents where the Preferred Parent made disparaging comments about the Rejected Parent
  • Witnesses who have observed and may testify as to alienating behaviors by the Preferred Parent

If you are looking for assistance with a divorce and/or custody and visitation rights, contact our law office and schedule a consultation.


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