What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental Alienation Syndrome is a term that is often thrown around in divorce and custody cases and is commonly referred to as the effect of parental alienation. It is not, however, a disorder that is recognized by the medical community as a medical issue.

Parental alienation is when a child, based on a number of factors, estranges from one parent. In divorce cases, or other custody cases, the courts are particularly concerned with parental alienation caused by the acts of the other parent.

Psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner was the first to use the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome” in the 1980s.

Gardner described parental alienation as preoccupation of a child with the criticism and depreciation of one parent. Typically, alienation is not toward just the targeted parent, but also toward his/her extended family.

Parental alienation occurs only in cases where there has been no abuse or any other rational basis for a child to create a diversion toward the targeted parent. Parental alienation occurs when one parent  essentially “programs” a child to dislike and even hate the other parent. According to research conducted by Gardner, 90% of alienation cases were cases where the mother alienated the father.

Though Parental Alienation Syndrome is a common term and is often used in custody cases and often thrown around lightly by parties who feel slighted in custody proceedings, it should be noted that it might be difficult to have expert evidence introduced in legal proceedings because most medical professionals do not recognize this syndrome as a mental or emotional disorder. There are, however, many professionals who hold themselves out to be experts in the area of parental alienation.

Parental alienation can vary in degree. In moderate cases it may be difficult to diagnose and even when it has been diagnoses, may not necessarily warrant a change of custody.

The important thing to remember is that parental alienation is aggressive and is not just one parent’s encouragement of the child to love him/her more than the other parent. It typically involves such infiltration of hatred that a child could suffer from permanent emotional harm and perhaps irreparable damage to relationships.

There are courts across the United States that have awarded sole custody of minor children to the father based on the evidence presented that the children had been alienated.

This is not common and is typically done only in the most extreme of circumstances, though. An example of alienation that might result in a custodial change is when a parent moves away, perhaps outside of the country, and forces the children to believe invalid and extremely horrible things about the other parent while hiding the children from any real contact and exposure to the other parent.

Alienation is based on lies and untruths. Again, parental alienation occurs only when there has been no real abuse toward the minor child.

If you believe that your child has been alienated intentionally alienated against you by the other parent, the best course of action is to consult with a psychologist or co-parenting counselor who can identify whether your situation is truly one to which the label of Parental Alienation Syndrome can be attached.

Parental alienation, if substantiated by professionals and experts respected by the court, may be the pivotal argument in your custody case.

The divorce lawyers for men at Cordell and Cordell handle many domestic litigation issues. Contact the Cordell & Cordell office nearest you or learn more information about parental alienation on DadsDivorce.com.

By Andrea Johnson
Mens Divorce Attorney, Cordell & Cordell


Matt Allen

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