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What is “Parental Alienation” and Why it is Important to Avoid

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Divorce is never easy, but when either or both parents campaign against each other using children, no one wins.

Parental alienation is the systematic effort of a parent to alter the feelings and behavior of a child with regard to their relationship with their other parent.  Parental alienation takes many forms and is a favorite approach for bitter custody combatants.

Everyone knows someone who has gone through a really ugly divorce.  It is common for either or both parents to say mean-spirited things about the other parent, or behave in a way that makes it clear to children that the other parent has definitely fallen out of favor.  Even children of couples who are divorcing amicably can feel the tension and strain between their parents.

Is saying spiteful things about the other parent, or going out of their way to avoid the other parent, parental alienation?  Not really.  Vitriol thrown back and forth between parents in front of children is unpleasant, and it can have long-term impacts on how children view themselves, their parents, and even their own children later in life.  But it is important to note children are witnesses in those settings, not pawns.

A focused strategy

Parental alienation is the damaging use of the psyche of a child against their own best interests.  It is the focused strategy of one (or both) parents to use the destabilization of divorce to convince a child that their other parent is something other than what they appear to be.  Actions taken by alienating parents may include:

  • Actively keeping a child from spending time with the other parent
  • Persistently and repeatedly denigrating the other parent in subtle, and not-so-subtle ways
  • Creating narratives to convince a child that their parent does not love them, and never did
  • Convincing a child that the alienating parent is all that they have, and that hard choices must be made in order for the child to remain safe
  • Forcing those choices on children effectively requires them to accept one parent and reject the other

Alienating parents are inherently unstable.  Rather than working to maintain some kind of balance and stability in the lives of their children, custody becomes a “winner takes all” process with harsh long-term consequences for children.

What are the effects of parental alienation on children?

While an alienating parent uses their child as a weapon against their former partner, the real victim is the child.  All children are products of two parents and alienating behavior directs a child to not only reject their parent, but a part of themselves.

In the long term, children exposed to alienating parents may experience poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, fear, and a lifetime of relationships colored by the question about what was done to them, and by whom.

Divorce is tough on everyone.  In some cases, children turn against one parent because the other parent is alienating them.  Other times, children try to stay safe and sane by staying away from a parent who is emotionally and physically abusive.

If you are heading toward divorce, think of your children and work with an experienced divorce attorney who can help you understand the best  options for your future—and the future of your children.

Talk with a trusted divorce and child custody attorney in Baltimore

When you have questions about divorce, child custody, or other family law issues, the Law Offices of Allyson B. Goldscher, LLC provides skilled legal representation and straightforward, knowledgeable legal counsel.  Contact us or call 410-602-9522 today.