Parental Alienation

May 14, 2024

Parental alienation (PA) can have a profound impact on both kids and parents. Kids who experience PA are more likely to have trust issues, struggle with relationships, feel depressed, and even turn to substances. For the parent who’s being pushed away, the pain is unbearable.

What is Parental Alienation?

PA has been discussed in legal and mental health circles for years. It was first named in 1985 by Dr. Richard Gardner, a child psychiatrist; however, there has been some debate about his methods since then.

Today, more mental health professionals are recognizing PA as a legitimate issue. The term is being considered for inclusion in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). It is mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), although not as a formal diagnosis. Leading organizations like the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Academy of Pediatrics also discuss PA in their literature.

Identifying Parental Alienation

Let’s get to the heart of the matter: What is PA exactly? It’s a mental condition in which a child, usually amid a messy divorce or separation, sides with one parent and rejects the other, considered the alienated parent, for no reason. This rejection is what sets PA apart from justified estrangement.

According to experts, identifying PA involves looking at five key factors:

  • The child actively avoids or rejects a relationship with one parent.
  • There was a previously positive relationship between the child and the now-rejected parent.
  • There’s no evidence of abuse or neglect from the rejected parent.
  • The favored parent uses multiple tactics to alienate the child from the other parent.
  • The child shows many of the typical behaviors associated with alienation.

In severe cases of parental alienation, limiting the child’s time with the parent influences the alienation of the other parent, or requiring supervision during time spent together is necessary. One parent purposefully turning a child against the other is considered psychological abuse. Parental alienation requires intervention similar to cases of physical or sexual abuse.

Keep An Eye Out for Early Signs of Parental Alienation

The key is catching PA early when it’s easier to treat. Therapists and mental health professionals play a crucial role in identifying and treating PA. As mental health professionals become more familiar with the signs of PA, they can identify it and intervene with counseling and education for parents before the situation escalates. PA is a complex issue that requires understanding, compassion, and early intervention to prevent lasting harm to both children and parents.

By Ronald G. Lieberman

Ronald G. Lieberman is a seasoned attorney with nearly 25 years of experience in all aspects of family/matrimonial law including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, domestic violence, equitable distribution, college expenses, marital settlement agreements, high-end family and matrimonial litigation, and appellate matters before the Appellate Division.

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