What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is an act by a parent that tries to denigrate and destroy the relationship between a child and the other targeted parent. Many consider parental alienation to be a form of child abuse.

Symptoms of alienation can vary from child to child, making it difficult to explain the need for help, according to Jill Duffy, a father’s rights attorney with Cordell & Cordell.

These symptoms include:

  • unexplained fear of one parent;
  • weak or absurd reasoning for the child’s behavior;
  • the appearance that they are following a script, but denial of such;
  • no guilt or remorse about treating one parent poorly;
  • always siding with one parent, even when it makes no sense to do so;
  • using “borrowed” phrases, which the child does not understand and cannot explain; and
  • hatred of the parent that spreads to the parent’s entire side of the family.

“The severity can be of such little consequence as a parent occasionally calling the other parent a derogatory name,” Duffy said. “Or it could be as overwhelming as the parent’s campaign of consciously destroying the children’s relationship with the other parent.”

Dr. Douglas Darnall is a licensed psychologist who has evaluated almost 1,000 child custody cases and is internationally recognized as an expert on parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome. He said the notion of parental alienation came to the forefront as a result of the women’s movement.

“Prior to the early 1960s, child custody was determined by this doctrine that the child and mother had a special relationship and the father couldn’t compete with that,” Darnall said. “The women’s movement and focus on equality helped shift those custody cases to focusing on the best interest of the child and pitting the two parents against each other. Now you have parents competing against each other, more contentious litigation and more of a battlefield atmosphere.”

When the child of warring parents is influenced or, in extreme cases, essentially brainwashed and the child becomes the perpetrator of alienation, then it becomes Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), according to Darnall. PAS only happens when the child acts on it and starts to display those alienating behaviors.

Groups such as the National Organization for Women are trying to get recognition of parental alienation out of the family court system. If these groups were to succeed, “the consequences would be to further empower mothers in custody battles by taking away the father’s right to inform courts about parental alienation by mothers,” said Robert Franklin, a member of the board of directors of Fathers & Families, an organization committed to family court reform.

As it is, proving the scientific validity of parental alienation syndrome in a family courtroom setting is very difficult, according to Scott Trout, managing partner of Cordell & Cordell.

That’s because a group rejected adding “parental alienation disorder” in the next edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, also known as DSM-5.

Had the American Psychiatric Association included parental alienation disorder in its next diagnostic book, family law attorneys could have proved parental alienation as a scientific fact thus greatly improving the case of the alienated parent.

“That’s your struggle,” Trout told Missouri Lawyers Weekly. “You can prove the conduct. You can have the child interviewed by psychologists. But you’re not necessarily trying to prove … its scientific validity.”

Trout said he must tiptoe around the subject, especially if the client can’t pay the often exorbitant cost of having an independent expert testify about parental alienation.

If the American Psychiatric Association included parental alienation disorder in its next diagnostic book, it would have “gone a long way towards creating awareness and helping children and families affected by this disorder,” said Dr. Amy J. Baker, a highly respected researcher in the field of parental alienation.

For now, parents must continue to deal with this form of abuse with little help available from the family courts.

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.

Men's Rights Editor

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