Custody and Parental Alienation

The custodial parent who alienates a child’s affections by making derogatory comments about the other parent, or by attempting to interfere with his or her visitation, or by suggesting that the other parent has abandoned the child or does not care about him or her, or by other efforts at driving a wedge between the non-custodial parent and the minor child, is manifesting parental alienation.

Children who have been through high-conflict child custody cases demonstrate an increased risk of mental health and addiction problems.

Children who have been through high-conflict child custody cases demonstrate an increased risk of mental health and addiction problems.

Family law attorneys sometimes file a motion for a change of custody based entirely on the custodial parent’s alienation of the minor children from the other parent. Because of the extremely negative impact on the children, the family court sometimes orders a change of custody if it is established that the custodial parent is attempting to alienate the children from the other parent.

Psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner first identified Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) in the 1980’s when he noticed a dramatic increase in hostile parents attempting to brainwash a child and denigrate the other parent.

PAS is complicated, and involves both the custodial parent and the minor child. It includes what Dr. Gardner calls “self-created contributions by the child in support of the alienating parent’s campaign of denigration against the targeted parent.”  According to Dr. Gardner, PAS is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes, the primary manifestation of which is  “the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification.”

When parents fight over child custody in high-conflict cases, the impact on their children is devastating.

Many times battling parents do not appreciate the impact that their comments and animosity have on their children. Children who have been through high-conflict child custody cases demonstrate an increased risk of mental health and addiction problems.

Sometimes situations exist where a parent poses a genuine risk to the minor children and thus contact between them is justifiably limited; parental alienation, on the other hand, is a child’s unreasonable or unjustified dislike or rejection of one parent. Parental alienation often results from the deliberate actions of one parent; however, it can also be helpful to look at other factors, such as the interactive dynamics of the family and the impact of the wider social sphere. These factors may help to explain the behaviors in any given case.


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