The Effects of Parental Alienation on Children of Divorce
What is Parental Alienation? Probably not a term most people have heard unless they have
dealt with a nasty custody battle. After a divorce, when one parent seeks to keep his or her child
or children from the other parent by any means necessary, it is called parental alienation.
Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS can also be described as brainwashing a child into
thinking one parent is good and one is bad. This behaviour is detrimental to a child and some
consider it abuse. It must be recognized by all as abuse, punished and stopped before any more
children are hurt. Despite opposition, PA cannot be allowed to continue for the sake of children
Michael Bone and Michael Walsh, in an article written for the Florida Bar Journal, give four
main criteria to use in detecting PAS. One or all of these criteria may be present. Criteria one
involves blocking the child from access to the absent parent. This may involve restricting phone
time, intercepting mail, taking away gifts sent to the child or more. In court the guilty party may
argue that they are a better parent, have better parental judgement and visiting the absent parent
upsets the children or they have a hard time adjusting when they come home. Criteria two involves
false allegations. These are most commonly allegations of abuse, especially sexual abuse. An
alienating parent may also accuse the other parent of emotional abuse, this is usually over a simple
parenting disagreement. For example, one parent may let the child stay up late once or twice and the
alienating parent says this is detrimental to the child’s health. Criteria three involves a decline in
relationship between child and alienated parent after the divorce. If there was a good relationship
prior to separation, and it suddenly declines this is a sure sign. A healthy parent/child relationship
does not just change on its own unless it is attacked. Criteria four involves a fear reaction by the
child. The alienating parent may “punish” the child for talking favourably about the absent parent or
expressing excitement about visitation with the absent parent. The parent may also shut the child up if
they want to talk about fun things they did at absent parent’s house. Contrarily, the alienating parent
will be all ears if the child has something negative to say about the other parent. Over a fairly short
amount of time the child may start to show fear of visiting the absent parent and/or say only negative
things about them (Bone and Walsh 44).
If a child is subject to PA, the alienating parent should immediately be punished. It isn’t always
that easy though. There are only a few cases where PA is punished. This is because there issome major opposition. While many experts have proven the existence of PA, the American
Psychology Association refuses to classify it as a mental disorder or even acknowledge it in theirmanual of mental illnesses. They believe it is a relationship issue and not a “Syndrome” or
illness. A major argument against recognizing PAS in courts is the fact that an abusive parent
behaviour. David Cary, in an article in the Boston Globe, includes a quote from the National
marketed legal strategy that has caused much harm to victims of abuse.’’ Not all women feel thisway, but since most of the perpetrators of PA are women, many of them do. Another argument is
that proving PA in court is not financially worth it since attorneys can charge more billable
door for false allegations and/or punishing the innocent, as with any crime.
We must realize, however, that PA is extremely detrimental to a child and some consider it
abuse. “Any attempt at alienating the children from the other parent should be seen as a direct
and willful violation of one of the prime duties of parenthood.” (Bones and Wash 44) Anna
Lavadera, Stefano Ferrcuti and Marisa Togliatti, professors at the University of Rome, in Italy,
did a study on how PAS affected children. They studied 12 psychological reports where PAS had
found that the alienating parent was always the one who had the most custody. They also found
(Lavadara, Ferracuti and Togliatti 1) Amy Baker and Naomi Ben-Ami did a study on 118 adults
found to have lower self-esteem, higher rates of depression, insecure attachments and in some a
constantly made negative remarks to the child about the targeted parent lowered the child’s self-
is bad, he or she must be half bad because they were half of their parent (Baker and Ben-Ami 3).
thinking they may turn the child against the other parent. In reality, all they are doing is tearing
One would think after hearing the effects of PA, people would take it more seriously Theproblem of PAS is a hard one to solve since some professionals deny it even exists. The first step
in helping the victims of PA would be to have it recognized as a clear form of child abuse. Onceit has been established as a real problem by both psychologists and legal professionals alike, it
will be easier to diagnose and then prove in court. Brainwashing happens over time, so early
think 50/50 custody is the only solution needed. While equal custody is the right idea and should
needs to be consequences enforced as well. “It is our feeling that when attempted PA has been
then lead only to unhappiness, frustration and, lastly, parental estrangement.” (Bones and Walsh
versus abuse is to take a look at how the parents respond to bringing in a neutral examiner. A
parent. One difference between the two, however, is that an Alienator will be willing to bring in
abusive parent will be unwilling for any examiner to be brought in for fear their abusive
It must be concluded that first of all, Parental Alienation is a serious matter; it needs to berecognized as a genuine syndrome, and the perpetrator swiftly punished for his or her crime. PA
causes devastating effects on children and their alienated parent, and while there is a margin for
error in diagnosing or convicting, the harmful effects simply outweigh everything else.
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Bone, Michael J., and Walsh, Michael R. “Parental Alienation Syndrome: How to Detect It and What to Do About It.” The Florida Bar Journal Vol. 73 (1999): pg. 44-48. Web. 20 July 2013
Crary, David. “Psychiatric Group: Parental Alienation no disorder” Boston.com, 21 September 2012. Web. 31 July 2013
Gardner, Richard A. "Differentiating Between Parental Alienation Syndrome And Bona Fide Abuse-Neglect." American Journal Of Family Therapy 27.2 (1999): 97. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 3 Aug. 2013.
Lavadera Lubrano, Anna, and Ferracuti, Stefano, and Malagoli Togliatti, Marisa, Parental Alienation Syndrome in Italian legal judgments: An exploratory study, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Volume 35, Issue 4, July–August 2012, Pages 334-342, ISSN 0160-2527
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Morrison, SL et al. "Parental Alienation, DSM-V, And ICD-11." American Journal Of Family Therapy 38.2 (2010): 76-187. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 21 July 2013.