If you and your soon-to-be ex are already battling over your child and how to share parenting time and responsibility, you may be only too familiar with the term “parental alienation.” The term (also known as “parental alienation syndrome”) originated as a psychiatric theory that some parents try to influence their child into believing their other parent has abused them or is otherwise an unfit parent. A child may be so convinced of the supposed reality that they’ll even testify to it in court.
There’s considerable dispute over whether it should be recognized as a mental health disorder (which it isn’t). Some mental health and even legal professionals reject the use of the term completely. It is more often used in a legal context than a mental health one.
The term is used more broadly than it originally was
This term frequently used in custody disputes to describe any situation where a parent has intentionally tried to harm the relationship between their child and their other parent by telling that child lies and/or manipulating them. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve accusations of abuse.
Sometimes, a parent will tell a child that their other parent doesn’t love them, doesn’t have time for them or is getting a divorce because they don’t want their family any longer. This is often to gain greater custody rights, but sometimes it’s simply a way of punishing their ex.
Sometimes, unfortunately, one parent (and sometimes a child) will accuse the other parent of serious misconduct as a result of this kind of truth-twisting. Such an accusation often requires bringing in mental health professionals and parental evaluators to talk with the child and testify for one side or the other regarding whether a child is showing signs of abuse, neglect or mistreatment. In some cases, a court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) whose job is solely to represent and advocate for the child.
The short-term and long-term harm to a child
Certainly, the parent who engages in this kind of manipulation when they know that what they’re telling their child is false is not considering that child’s well-being. In fact, they could be causing them considerable long-term psychological harm, in addition to hurting their current relationship with both parents.
When a parent engages in parental alienation, it often backfires on them and causes them to lose custody completely. However, you can’t just assume that those in charge of determining parental rights will see the truth. If you believe you and your child are the victim of parental alienation, even if you haven’t yet begun the divorce process, you should seek experienced legal guidance to learn more about your rights and options under the law.