What Parental Alienation Is and Why It Should Be Avoided During Divorce

The term “parental alienation” may be new to you, but the concept is probably familiar, and mental health professionals and advocacy organizations are increasingly warning parents of the long-term downsides to children and parents alike of parental alienation. In essence, parental alienation is a term to describe the acts of one parent to turn a child against the other parent through psychological manipulation, and it is frequently used as a misguided strategy in custody and divorce battles. Parental alienation is often done at the expense of a child’s overall welfare, and the strategy can easily backfire in the custody proceedings. That said, there are legitimate circumstances in which one parent should be kept away from a child. Below, we discuss the implications of parental alienation as well as the proper method to address a situation involving a harmful parent.

Defining Parental Alienation

The term “parental alienation” can refer to the process of one parent trying to turn a child against the other parent, or it can refer to the end result of that process in which the child becomes alienated from the parent. For our purposes, we will refer to parental alienation as the process of one parent instilling fear, anger, or any kind of hostility in the child against the other parent. This is often done through derogatory statements such as:

  • Blaming the other parent for the breakup
  • Making fun of the parent as boring, mean, irresponsible, etc.
  • Creating false stories about the other parent
  • Telling the child how bad their life might be with the other parent
  • Sharing intimate details about the other parent not appropriate for a child

Why Parental Alienation Can Backfire in Your Custody Matter

Parents oftentimes pursue the parental alienation strategy as a way of getting the child on their side in a custody matter based on a mistaken belief that this will improve their chances in reaching their custody goals. In California, courts look at the best interests of the child in reaching custody determinations, and the child’s preferences are only one factor in that determination. Other factors that the court will look at is whether the parent is willing to work with the other parent in raising the child, and whether they will encourage or discourage contact with the other parent.

The courts want both parents involved, whenever possible, and so when one parent intentionally tries to alienate another parent, and the court finds out that a child’s stated preference for a parent is based on parental alienation strategies, this will reflect extremely poorly on the parent who tried to alienate the other parent. This can potentially result in an adverse custody ruling, e.g. sole custody to the other parent, and even suspended child support.

The Proper Way to Address Parenting Issues

If there are legitimate issues with the fitness of the other parent to raise the child, the proper way to handle this is to work with an attorney who can present these issues to the family court judge who will weigh them in analyzing the best interests of the child. By doing this, the court becomes fully educated about the parenting issues you are concerned with and will not penalize you for improperly taking matters into your own hands. And if there are serious issues affecting a child’s safety, the proper legal route to address those issues is to work with a family law attorney to seek a restraining order as well as custody orders that reflect these risks.

Get Help in Your Custody Matter

Getting custody of your children is one of the most important legal goals you can ever undertake. An experienced, compassionate family lawyer can help you clearly make your arguments to a court and help you avoid irreversible mistakes in strategy that can affect your relationships with your children for years to come. For help with any family law matters, please contact the Pasadena family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today at 626-768-2945.