Parental alienation is a process of estrangement where a parent manipulates a child to reject their other parent. The manipulating parent is referred to as the favored parent and the other is the rejected parent. An estranged child may fear, disrespect, or be hostile towards the rejected parent. In severe cases, an estranged child may refuse to see or speak to the rejected parent. Estrangement caused by parental alienation is an unjustified rejection of one parent. Meaning that the rejected parent did not do anything that caused the estrangement or would warrant the level of rejection from the child. Parental alienation is rare but occurs most often in the context of family separation and divorce.
The breakdown of a family unit in the form of separation and divorce is often accompanied by conflict and feelings of anger and betrayal. These feelings can cause a parent to behave in ways that alienate their child from the other parent. Parental alienation can be a conscious or unconscious process.
Some examples of behavior that can cause a child to reject their other parent include:
- exaggerating flaws of the other parent to the child
- refusing to acknowledge any positive traits in the other parent
- involving the child in adult matters and litigation
- attacking the other parent or their family members
- forcing a child to take sides in disagreements
- changing the child’s schedule so that the child cannot see the other parent
- influencing their child to believe there is no need to have a relationship with the other parent
- causing their child to question whether they are safe when with the other parent
- making false or fabricated allegations of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.
Children who experience parental alienation suffer long-term negative impacts. The level of impact depends on the severity of the alienation. Negative consequences include guilt, depression, mental health disorders, and difficulty in interpersonal relationships.
Conflict and hurt feelings during a separation or divorce are often unavoidable, but harming your child is not. Parents can educate themselves about the impact of their behavior on their children. Protecting children during separation and divorce is one of the primary concerns of any good family law attorney or lawyer. If you think your other parent is engaging in parental alienation, you need to bring this to the attention of your attorney or family counselor. Trained professionals help in addressing parental alienation during your separation or divorce.
The National Coalition Against Parental Alienation offers a free online course to educate family members about the damaging effects on children and families.