What is Parental Alienation, and What Are its Dangers?

Recently I spoke to Charlie Jamison on my radio show, Dialogue on Divorce. Charlie is Board-certified attorney in Marital and Family Law with the Florida Bar. He has had a long and distinguished career and has received the Job Advocacy Award from the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County twice. Charlie is also an expert in the developing field of parental alienation.

Parental alienation is a circumstance or a dynamic in which a child in a highly contested divorce case aligns himself or herself strongly or, in many cases, completely with an alienating parent and rejects the relationship with the targeted parent. This is without legitimate justification for the rejection and it typically occurs of a high-conflict, highly litigated divorce.

There is a variation of types of alienation: mild, moderate or extreme. In very extreme cases, alienation might manifest with a child saying: “I don’t want to have anything to do with you, dad. I hate you.” The child doesn’t remember any positive relationship with her dad. They hide or even run away when in the targeted parent’s custody.

In New York, parental alienation in divorces is extremely frowned upon. It is a high-stakes game; if the parent is found to have committed parental alienation, particularly if it is moderate or extreme, it is very difficult to treat the child successfully in a traditional therapeutic model. That often means the child has got to be removed from the alienating parent and placed into custody of the targeted parent. You can lose custody of the child, and you can lose your relationship with the child. If the court doesn’t pull the trigger and give the remedy that’s necessary to cure the issue, then the targeted parent will lose the relationship with the alienated child.

Parental alienation is dangerous to a child because it alters a child’s fundamental sense of reality. Typically, a child’s sense of reality is one where the child has a good relationship with both parents, but now the child is alienated and has been taught, brainwashed, or programmed to believe that the child is at risk of harm or danger with the other parent. It can also create a serious anger in a child which is judgmental in any age, causing trust issues to occur that can follow and haunt the child throughout his adult life, also teaching a child to see the manipulation in the normal parts of a relationship.

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