Parental Alienation Syndrome

Our Raleigh child custody attorneys can advise clients when it comes to parental alienation cases.

Parental alienation syndrome is the result of the failure of a residential parent to properly exercise his or her parental responsibility. It is a psychological disorder that arises when one parent, consciously or unconsciously, engages in conduct that serves to alienate the child from the other parent. Through the persistent teachings of the parent, or brainwashing, the child is “taught” to hate or disrespect the other parent.

Child custody disputes can fuel parental alienation. Inevitably, children receive subtly transmitted messages that both parents have serious criticisms of each other.

Parental alienation syndrome, however, is much more serious. It involves the systematic vilification by one parent of the other parent and brainwashing of the child, with the intent of alienating the child from the other parent.

How Do You Know If It’s Parental Alienation?

Common examples of parental alienation are found where the “loved” parent constantly complains about the lack of financial support from the “hated” parent, thus placing the child in actual fear of going without food, clothing or shelter. Harsh criticisms of the “hated parent,” or statements that he or she does not love the child or has abandoned the child, are also damaging.

When a child is exposed to such conduct over a long period of time, the child’s hatred or distrust can become obsessive, often resulting in panic or fear when the child is with the “hated” parent. Residential parents often use such behavior to justify their refusal to allow contact with the other parent. Many times, the nonresidential parent feels that he or she has little choice but to accede to this manipulation of the alienated child.

Many judges now recognize the syndrome and have begun to impose orders designed to reduce the risk of parental alienation.

Tell-Tale Signs: Symptoms of Parental Alienation

Douglas Darnell, a licensed psychologist and author of Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation, says that the syndrome was first recognized among mental health professionals in the mid – 1980s. How can you tell if your ex is attempting to alienate your child?

Here is a list of warning symptoms and examples of parental alienation, provided by Dr. Darnell:

  • Giving a child a choice as to whether or not to visit with the other parent.
  • Telling the child details about the marital relationship or reasons for the divorce.
  • Refusing to acknowledge that the child has property and may want to transport possessions between residences.
  • Resisting or refusing to cooperate by not allowing the other parent access to school or medical records and schedules of extracurricular activities.
  • One parent blaming the other parent for financial problems, breaking up the family, changes in lifestyle, or having a girlfriend or boyfriend.
  • Refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule in order to respond to the child’s needs, or scheduling the child in so many activities that the other parent is never given the time to visit.
  • Assuming that if a parent has been physically abusive with the other parent, it follows that the parent will assault the child. This assumption is not always true.
  • Asking the child to choose one parent over the other.
  • The alienating parent encouraging any natural anger the child has toward the other parent.
  • A parent or stepparent suggesting changing the child’s name or having the stepparent adopt the child.
  • When the child cannot give reasons for being angry towards a parent or gives reasons that are vague and without any details.
  • Using a child to spy or covertly gather information for the parent’s own use.
  • Arranging temptations that interfere with the other parent’s visitation.
  • Reacting with hurt or sadness to a child having a good time with the other parent.
  • Asking the child about the other parent’s personal life.
  • Physically or psychologically rescuing a child when there is no threat to their safety.
  • Making demands on the other parent that are contrary to court orders.
  • Listening in on the child’s phone conversation with the other parent.

Family law attorney Charles Ullman used Dr. Darnell in a custody case as an expert and found him to be a very valuable asset.

Concerned parents should consult with a knowledgeable attorney.

Tips on How to Talk to Your Child During a Divorce

Here are some other tips which may be helpful for you, depending on your case:

  • Parental alienationWhen spending time with your child, don’t talk to them about the pending court action. Don’t let them see court documents regarding your case, and make sure they don’t overhear inappropriate conversations (for example, commiserating on the phone with a friend).
  • Avoid adding to the problem. Simply because the other parent is acting inappropriately does not mean it is in the child’s best interests for you to act similarly.
  • Likewise, it’s never appropriate to withhold parenting time or child support because the other parent is acting badly.
  • Although easier said than done, try to keep your emotions under control and act reasonably. Any time someone reacts irrationally or in anger, that person is only proving the other parent’s allegation that they have anger or other emotional issues.

If you would like more information, or would like to schedule a consultation regarding parental alienation syndrome, contact us.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.