Parental alienation syndrome is the result of the failure of a
residential parent to properly exercise his or her parental
responsibility. It is a psychological disorder that arises when
one parent, consciously or unconsciously, engages in conduct that
serves to alienate the child from the other parent. Through the
persistent teachings of the parent, or brainwashing, the child is
"taught" to hate or disrespect the other parent.
Custody disputes can fuel parental alienation. Inevitably,
children receive subtly transmitted messages that both parents
have serious criticisms of each other. Parental alienation
syndrome, however, is much more serious. It involves the
systematic vilification by one parent of the other parent and
brainwashing of the child, with the intent of alienating the child
from the other parent.
Common examples of parental alienation are found where the
"loved" parent constantly complains about the lack of
financial support from the "hated" parent, thus placing
the child in actual fear of going without food, clothing or
shelter. Harsh criticisms of the "hated parent," or
statements that he or she does not love the child or has abandoned
the child, are also damaging. When a child is exposed to such
conduct over a long period of time, the child’s hatred or
distrust can become obsessive, often resulting in panic or fear
when the child is with the "hated" parent. Residential
parents often use such behavior to justify their refusal to allow
contact with the other parent. Many times, the nonresidential
parent feels that he or she has little choice but to accede to
this manipulation of the alienated child.
Many judges now recognize the syndrome and have begun to impose
orders designed to reduce the risk of parental alienation.
Douglas Darnell, a licensed psychologist and author of Divorce
Casualties: Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation,
says that the syndrome was first recognized among mental health
professionals in the mid-1980s. How can you tell if your ex is
attempting to alienate your child? Here is a list of warning
symptoms, provided by Dr. Darnell:
- Giving a child a choice as to whether or not to visit with
the other parent.
- Telling the child details about the marital
relationship or reasons for the divorce.
- Refusing to acknowledge that the child has property and may
want to transport possessions between residences.
- Resisting or refusing to cooperate by not allowing the other
parent access to school or medical records and schedules of
- One parent blaming the other parent for financial problems,
breaking up the family, changes in lifestyle, or having a
girlfriend or boyfriend.
- Refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule in
order to respond to the child’s needs, or scheduling the
child in so many activities that the other parent is never
given the time to visit.
- Assuming that if a parent has been physically abusive with
the other parent, it follows that the parent will assault the
child. This assumption is not always true.
- Asking the child to choose one parent over the other.
- The alienating parent encouraging any natural anger the
child has toward the other parent.
- A parent or stepparent suggesting changing the child’s
name or having the stepparent adopt the child.
- When the child cannot give reasons for being angry towards a
parent or gives reasons that are vague and without any
- Using a child to spy or covertly gather information for the
parent’s own use.
- Arranging temptations that interfere with the other parent’s
- Reacting with hurt or sadness to a child having a good time
with the other parent.
- Asking the child about the other parent’s personal life.
- Physically or psychologically rescuing a child when there is
no threat to their safety.
- Making demands on the other parent that are contrary to
- Listening in on the child’s phone conversation with the
Mr. Ullman used Dr. Darnell in a custody case as an expert and
found him to be a very valuable asset.
Concerned parents should consult with a knowledgeable attorney.
Here are some other tips which may be helpful for you, depending
on your case:
- When spending time with your child, don’t talk to them
about the pending court action. Don’t let them see court
documents regarding your case, and make sure they don’t
overhear inappropriate conversations (for example,
commiserating on the phone with a friend).
- Avoid adding to the problem. Simply because the other parent
is acting inappropriately does not mean it is in the child’s
best interests for you to act similarly.
- Likewise, it’s never appropriate to withhold parenting
time or child support because the other parent is acting
- Although easier said than done, try to keep your emotions
under control and act reasonably. Any time someone reacts
irrationally or in anger, that person is only proving the
other parent’s allegation that they have anger or other
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