Many aspects of divorce can be heartbreaking, but perhaps nothing is more tragic than when an innocent child is turned against a loving parent.
Sadly, it is common for one parent to work to undermine the relationship their child has with the other parent thus putting the child directly in the center of the conflict of their divorce.
This process is called parental alienation, which is defined as the programming/brainwashing of a child by one parent to vilify the other in a way that damages or destroys the targeted parent’s relationship with their child.
Parental alienation is a global problem. In the United Kingdom, chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (Cafcass) Anthony Douglas called parental alienation child abuse and estimated that around 80% of the most difficult cases that come before family courts are because of parental alienation.
“I think the way you treat your children after a relationship has broken up is just as powerful a public health issue as smoking or drinking,” Douglas said.
The National Parents Organization blog elaborated on Douglas’s notion that parental alienation is a threat to public health.
“Why would parental alienation constitute a public health issue? Because parental alienation’s whole purpose is to remove as much as possible one parent from a child’s life,” wrote Robert Franklin, Esq., who is a member of the NPO’s National Board of Directors. “And, since both parents are important to children’s well-being – their mental and physical health, their educational success, career success, etc. – parental alienation necessarily impacts the commonwealth.”
What are the symptoms of parental alienation?
The term “parental alienation syndrome” was coined by psychologist Richard Gardner in 1985, and the eight symptoms of PAS he defined have held up remarkably well.
The symptoms are: denigration, frivolous rationalization for the complaint, lack of ambivalence, independent thinker phenomenon, automatic/reflexive support, absence of guilt, borrowed scenarios, and the spread of animosity.
More broadly, parental alienation is the simple act of one parent manipulating an innocent child in order to turn them against the other parent. It’s widely accepted that kids are best able to cope with divorce when they maintain healthy relationships with each parent, which makes the act of parental alienation all the more sinister.
Why is parental alienation controversial?
Although Gardner defined the symptoms of PAS more than 30 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association has been slow to recognize PAS. The APA has argued PAS can’t be recognized as a mental disorder because it’s a parent-child relationship dysfunction.
Despite not formally including it as a mental disorder, the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual includes all the symptoms of PAS under the broader category of “child psychological abuse.”
Those working to prevent recognition of PA often argue that it’s a ploy devised by fathers to gain custody of their kids. It might be true that the majority of victims of parental alienation are dads, but that speaks more to the imbalance in the family court system.
Typically, the non-custodial parent is the target of alienation, which in most cases is the father. In the UK, for instance, nine out of 10 children of separating or divorcing couples live most of the time with their mothers. The numbers are similar in the U.S. So naturally, more fathers are PA victims, but mothers are susceptible to alienation as well.
What can be done about parental alienation?
Even as parental alienation is gaining more recognition, it remains widely misunderstood, particularly in regards to custody disputes.
Building a case to prove parental alienation is present in court is often an uphill battle, but it is possible. In some cases, demonstrating parental alienation is present can result in a modification of custody depending on what the court deems is in the child’s best interests.
It’s important to have a family law attorney well-versed in your state’s child custody statutes in your corner, but there are alternative ways to fight against parental alienation outside of legal remedies. There are many books about dealing with alienation and there is a growing number of support groups dedicated to helping parents fight parental alienation.
Reunification following a period of alienation can be tricky, but a number of intervention models have been developed and proven to be successful. In these programs, therapists work with families to rebuild a healthy relationship between the child and alienated parent.
20 comments on “Parental Alienation Considered A Threat To Public Health”
My sister is going through this. He has completely turned their 3teenage boys against her. Not to mention she can’t go home because he filed a bogus domestic charge on her. They owned a business for 20 some years sold it and she hasnt received a dime!!! She can’t afford divorce attorney!! His mother is helping him hide the money from her it just makes me sick how he is doing her after 27 years being together !!!
Id try to move away from calling it PAS as a syndrome. Thats been the biggest stall in mental health….look up the work of Dr. Craig Childress and his work with AB-PA (attachment based parental alienation)
Think i don’t understand is why this “new men” in the Ex’s life would believe them and be supportive of all this parental alienation?, Don’t they see that they can go thru the same too?
A man that supports his wife or GF in this and never be a real man, more of a coward.
I am a non-custodial dad who has suffered from parental alienation from both ex-wife and her “new” second husband. I was awarded joint custody but the ex and her husband wanted sole just to live without my involvement. This was a Connecticut divorce and I’m amazed at the resources these mother’s go thru to gain a “priority custody” over their ex-spouse. It becomes a mind game control that the courts don’t see because these women’s groups really try to blindside the judges who don’t understand the complex feminst groups that pop up to manipulate this. I have a son and a daughter and the daughter sidelines more with the mother than the son. My son is now starting to see the truth about his other parents and it’s been 14 years with no child contact for me. It starts with FALSE domestic violence charges because that’s what these feminist are taught to get free handouts. I am a software developer. One of my free projects that I have taken on is the creation of Project Code Amber which compromises the locations of domestic violence safe houses by extracting data from municipal GIS servers and analyses the tax data structure to determine locations and street addresses of domestic violence “safe houses for women”..
first of all I’m not the father but his mother who has weathered the storm of this womans wrath. She accused him of sposal abuse and we went to court and the lawyer was against us as was the court. he did nothing but we were not able to do anything about it and then he went back to her. I couldn’t believe it. Anyway now she has taken the children and refused to let him see them. We are about to start a custody battle. It isn’t easy unless you have a lot of money. Don’t know where this is headed but I hope we will see my grandchildren soon.
This is definitely going on in my case. Plus replacement of parent. All of her animosity has brought another person in to the kids lives and they are now suppose to call him father. He has no point or purpose being their father.