What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation involves actions by one parent designed to damage and weaken the bond between a child and the other parent. This is done in an attempt to make the child hostile toward the other parent. Both biological and step-parents can perpetrate such behavior. Recognized as a type of child abuse, parental alienation also constitutes a form of family violence.

What is parental alienation syndrome?

When parental alienation persists over time or is particularly severe, it can lead to the development of parental alienation syndrome.

This term was introduced in the 1980s by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner. It describes a situation where a child is not only influenced by one parent to disparage the other but also begins to actively contribute to this denigration. Essentially, the child internalizes the negative views about the alienated parent to such an extent that they autonomously continue the campaign of denigration. This syndrome typically emerges in the context of child custody disputes.

Signs of parental alienation:

  • Making the child(ren) feel bad or guilty for expressing affection towards the alienated parent or making them feel bad for wanting to contact/spend time with the alienated parent
  • Bad mouthing or making disparaging comments about the alienated parent to the child(ren)
  • Impeding visitation, access or custody by the alienated parent despite court orders
  • Making false claims of abuse about the alienated parent to the child(ren)
  • Telling the children the alienated parent doesn’t care about them as much

Signs of parental alienation syndrome

  • Expressing anger with you without reason or in defense of the other parent
  • Refusing to spend time with you without good reason
  • Rejecting you and your family including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins without reason
  • Criticising you and using language beyond their age (and out of character) in their criticisms
  • Uncharacteristic outbursts of anger/tantrums
  • Finding fault with everything you do
  • Telling you the don’t care about or love you
  • Becoming withdrawn and no longer expresses affection towards you and denying they ever cared about you
  • Outright and absolute rejection of your new partner
  • Exhibiting symptoms of depression and/or anxiety
  • Disinterest in socializing with friends
  • Sudden poor academic performance
  • Onset of nervous tics or stuttering (without diagnosed speech impediment)
  • Decreased appetite and difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping

Can one parent prevent the other from seeing their child?

A parent cannot legally prevent the other from having access to their child, except under specific circumstances. These exceptions include situations where there is a real and significant risk of psychological or physical harm to the child, or if there’s concern that the other parent might abduct the child. In such cases, the proper legal procedure must be followed, which typically involves obtaining a court order that restricts the other parent’s access.

Is parental alienation a reason to change custody arrangements?

Parental alienation can serve as a basis for modifying an existing custody agreement. This is particularly relevant if the alienation affects adherence to the custody schedule, such as when the alienating parent does not comply with the court-ordered visitation times.

What is malicious parent syndrome?

Formerly known as “malicious mother syndrome,” this term has evolved to “malicious parent syndrome” to reflect the changing dynamics in parenting roles and family structures, recognizing that either parent can engage in such behavior. Malicious parent syndrome occurs when a custodial parent systematically alienates the child against the non-custodial parent or interferes with the latter’s visitation, access, or custody rights. While not classified as a mental illness, it is often observed in parents who suffer from various mental health issues.

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