A parent who has committed child abuse, neglect or domestic violence, suffers from mental illness, or struggles with addiction may experience a loss or impairment of relationship with the affected children. This type of estrangement between child and parent may have little or nothing to do with the other parent’s influence, and should not be confused with what is commonly referred to as parental alienation.
Parental alienation describes a situation wherein one parent undermines and interferes with a child’s relationship with the other parent. It is a form of psychological manipulation that negatively affects the child’s perceptions of self, family, and history, leading the child to resist contact with a previously loved parent. Parental alienation is most often associated with custody litigation, though alienation dynamics can exist in intact families too. Parental alienation occurs on a continuum from mild to moderate to severe. For example, sometimes parents have not understood how their beliefs and behaviors are contributing to their children’s difficulties with the other parent. In those cases, education, supportive counseling, and monitoring may repair the problem. At the other extreme, parents may be unable or unwilling to accept that the other parent is “safe” or deserving of a relationship with the child. In these situations, children are placed at great risk for psychological injury and a judicial intervention will be necessary.
Parental alienation cases are complex, but remedies exist. Sometimes rejected parents wonder if it is too late to reclaim a relationship; experience tells us that healthy reunification can happen in even severe situations involving adolescent children and years of psychological damage. Regardless of where your situation rests along the continuum, the clinicians at Forensic Family Associates have the training and experience to help.
For evidence-based information on parental alienation and its treatment, we recommend the work of:
To learn more about parental alienation and the professionals who are involved in research and practice, visit the Parental Alienation Study Group.