Parental Alienation is Not an Allegation to be Used Lightly

Sad tired mother and sulky daughter not talking after conflict

Parental alienation is a term used in family law cases and typically found in families involved in high-conflict divorce or separation.  It is also known as resist/refuse parent-child relational problems. Many people believe that if a child resists or refuses contact with a parent – even temporarily – that alienation is the cause. This is not the case.  The allegation alone is a very strong allegation to make without underlying evidence supporting the allegation including very specific examples of behaviors.  To identify parental alienation, all evidence must be examined. Mental health providers and the Arizona family law courts need to make evidence-informed decisions about whether or not parental alienation is occurring or has occurred.

Behaviors that are seen in parent alienating typically are behaviors that parents can use to manipulate a child’s feelings, behaviors and/or beliefs about the other parent.  This includes badmouthing the other parent, emotional manipulation, limiting or monitoring contact with the other parent and/or allowing the child to make adult decisions.

Parental alienation must be differentiated from other conditions that might share similar features which are referred to as realistic estrangement, pathological bonding due to parental neglect, abuse or exposure to intimate partner violence.

The Arizona family law court – with the aid of appropriately trained mental health professionals – looks at the various indicators of alienation. Both professional and research-based evidence, suggest utilizing decision trees with questions to identify behavior indicators of alienation. Several scales and questionnaires have been developed to help measure alienation when allegations are made.

Not all parents who engage in parental alienation behaviors are mentally ill or have an underlying mental health diagnosis. Psychopathology and personality disorders are also risk factors or possible indicators of alienation.

Early intervention is the key to successful treatment. Court orders are necessary to protect the child’s right of access to both parents. Improve co-parenting and communication between the parties is a must.  Children who experience alienation suffer both short and long-term negative effects, typically manifesting as behavioral problems. Some studies have documented that it profoundly impacts the child’s capacity to form trusting intimate relationships.

About the Author: Carissa Seidl is a family law attorney at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. Her representation of family law clients focuses on divorce, child custody and post-decree modifications. She is experienced in high conflict dissolutions and can be reached at 602.248.1000.


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