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What is parental alienation?

In this blog, we write frequently about the challenges that both divorced parents and children of divorce face. We also continually stress how important it is that parents do their best to set aside their own hurt and anger and work together to effectively co-parent. Unfortunately, some divorced parents have a difficult time fostering and encouraging a healthy relationship between a child and an ex-spouse.

Yes, a child may be angry and lash out at one parent when he or she sees that mom or dad is upset and sad. However, it's a parent's obligation to shield a child from some of the harsh realities that may accompany divorce and to ensure that a child is allowed to continue to have contact and form a loving relationship with an ex-spouse.

Parental alienation is a term used to describe behaviors in which a mother or father may engage that attempt to manipulate or bully a "child to pick between their mother or father." Parents who engage in these types of behaviors may do so intentionally or may be unaware that their behaviors are serving to alienate a child from the other parent.
Examples of behaviors that qualify as parental alienation include:

  • Making negative comments about a child's other parent either directly to or within earshot of a child
  • Becoming visibly upset or hostile in front of a child when situations relate to or issues revolve around a child's other parent
  • Allowing a child to act rude to or disrespect his or her other parent
  • Openly blaming a child's other parent for financial or other hardships
  • Not allowing a child to see or communicate with his or her other parent
  • Telling a child that his or her other parent does not want to see, spend time with or love him or her

Children who are subject to these types of behaviors are robbed of their right to love and form a close relationship with both parents. A child may develop a damaging psychological condition that's known as parental alienation syndrome, the most common symptom of which is showing "severe opposition to contact with one parent and/or overt hatred toward such parent."

Divorced parents who are engaged in arguments related to custody and visitation and/or who believe an ex is engaging in behaviors that are associated with parental alienation would be wise to seek professional legal help.

Source: Parental Alienation Awareness Organization, "What is Parental Alienation?," Jan. 28, 2016

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