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Family Wars: The Alienation of Children
(provided by Dr. Peggie Ward)

A. The Continuum: Distinguishing between "Typical" Divorce and "Alienation"

In a "cooperative" divorce, both parents work together to restructure their own relationship and their family to allow the children as normalized a relationship with each of them as possible. This means cooperating with each other as to finances, logistics and schedules as well as actively supporting the children's emotional relationships with the other parent and the extended families.

All parties to divorce experience a wide range of intense emotions, including rage, disappointment, hurt and fear. In "cooperative" divorces the parties consciously try not to engage in behavior they understand to be inflammatory to the other side.

However, an angry divorce is not necessarily an alienating one. Alienation occurs when the parties to divorce or custody litigation use their children to meet their own emotional needs as vehicles to express or carry their intense emotions or as pawns to manipulate as a way of inflicting retribution on the other side. The focus in determining - whether or not there is alienation in an angry divorce must be, not on the degree of rage or loss expressed, but on the behavioral willingness to involve the children.

Parental alienation occurs along abroad continuum, based on the level of internal distress of the alienating parent, the vulnerability of the child and the responses of the target parent as well as on the responses of the external system (family, attorneys, mental health professionals, the legal system). The range may be from children who experience significant discomfort at transition times (mild), through children who feel compelled to keep separate worlds and identities when with each parent (moderate), to children who refuse to have anything to do with the target parent and become obsessed with their hatred (severe).

There are alienating parents who are completely unaware of either their emotional state, the motivation to alienate, or the effects of their behavior (unconscious), while at the other end of the continuum, there are parents who absolutely intend to bind the child to themselves in an exclusive relationship and are explicit in their statements and behavior (overt).

Information provided by:
Dr. Peggie Ward

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