Parental alienation is a term that emerged in the 1990’s to describe an attempt on the part of one parent to limit time with the other parent, or even remove that parent from the child’s life. It was first described in conflicted separation/divorce cases where it is, in fact, more likely to occur. Given that children are generally healthier when they have ongoing contact with both parents, what would motivate one parent to try to exclude the other parent from the child’s life?
a. Physical/sexual abuse – This clarification is critical – if there is abuse we do not speak of alienation. When there is significantly compromised or corrupt parenting, the term is estrangement. (1)
b. False beliefs of abuse of the child by one parent. In this scenario, a self-defined “protective parent” may try to limit contact for fear of harm to the child. However, a deliberate false allegation as a manipulation by one parent is considered an alienating behavior.
c. Some parents may want to keep the child from having a relationship with the other parent for selfish reasons. Such parents have come to be known as Alienating Parents (AP) or, to the extent that their efforts are successful, the Favored Parent (FP). The parent who becomes alienated as a result of these efforts is referred to as the Target Parent (TP) or the Rejected Parent (RP).
d. Even mild, or unsuccessful alienating behavior can complicate the child’s emotional adjustment. Some children are put in the unhealthy situation of taking the side of one parent over the other. (2)
1. Abuse allegations are never neutral, and they are hard to refute. Falsely leading the child to fear/distrust/reject the healthy parent is always wrong.
2. Depriving a child of having a relationship with their healthy biological parent is wrong. (3)
3. The strategies/plans of the AP can hurt the child as they grow and learn of the manipulation.
4. “Using” a child for selfish ends in an adult-to-adult conflict is immoral.
In a recent study funded by BOI, 100 potential jurors were asked, “is it morally wrong for one parent to try to get their child to actively dislike the other parent?” 95% answered yes to the choices “always” and “often!”
In conclusion, parental alienation is a generally accepted term describing an attempt by one parent to exclude the other parent from the child’s life. In our area, judges, attorneys, and mental health workers are aware of alienating behaviors, and are working to both resolve existing cases and reduce future alienation.
1. American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
2. Afifi, T.D. and Schrodt, P. (2004), Adolescents’ and young adults’ feelings of being caught between their parents in divorced and non-divorced households. Communication Monographs, 70, 142-173.
3. Johnston, Janet R. et al., In the Name of the Child (2d ed. 2009) (outlining the multiple impacts of parental conflict on the psychology and well-being of children). Springer Publishing Co., New York, NY.
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To eliminate harm to Acadiana's children due to parental conflict.