child with fighting parents

Handling Parental Alienation in Divorce

What is Parental Alienation?

Divorce with children is difficult on its own, and parental alienation can make divorce even more challenging. Parental alienation is when one parent purposely undermines and sabotages the child’s relationship with the other parent.

i The offending parent uses a variety of tactics, such as limiting communication between the child and the other parent, bad-mouthing the other parent, and threatening to withdraw affection from the child.
ii The offending parent may go so far as to falsely accuse the other parent of abuse.

Children may become distant from parents during divorce for a variety reasons. Children may distance themselves because they blame the parent who initiated the divorce. If forms of abuse, such as emotional abuse or substance abuse, are involved, a child is likely to become distant as well. However, this form of alienation differs from parental alienation because there is not parental alienation when there is a reasonable justification for the child to distance themselves from a parent.

iii Parental alienation is purposely done by the offending parent to damage the parent-child relationship and turn the child against the other parent.

Categories of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is generally categorized as mild, moderate, or severe.iv In a mild case of parental alienation, children may still be receptive to the other parent even with the alienator present. Moderate cases of parental alienation differs from severe because it is likely that the alienating parent was a good parent prior to divorce. Mild and moderate cases may not completely dissolve the child-parent relationship, but can still impact the child’s psychological well-being.

In severe cases, parental alienation can lead to long-term or permanent separation from the other parent, undermining a child’s psychological development.v When the child begins spending time with the alienated parent, the relationship can be repaired. Severe parental alienation may be considered emotional child abuse.

vi The child may feel guilt, loss, confusion, anxiety, fear, and other problems.vii

Concerns with Parental Alienation

The impact of parental alienation is devastating not only on children, but on the alienated parent as well. Some have compared the emotions of parental alienation to unexpected death.viii Parental alienation can be extremely frustrating for the targeted parent, as the parent and child likely had a previously happy relationship. This can lead to mental health challenges for the parent.

The alienated child’s attorney or the guardian ad litem (GAL), may have no mental health training and could take the child’s word as truth.ix It is important for the GAL to understand the child’s reasoning for rejecting the parent. If there is a reasonable and legitimate reason for the rejection, then it may not be parental alienation.

Addressing Parental Alienation

It is important to address parental alienation as soon as possible, as it can be much harder to treat as the alienation progresses. Keeping documentation of parental alienation is important. Text messages, emails, photographs, and recordings are imperative for putting together an accurate timeline.xi Depending on the severity of the parental alienation, it may be necessary for mental health experts to intervene. Reunification is possible if the offending parent’s behavior is addressed and stopped. The targeted parent should try to remain calm and composed, and refrain from acting out despite the emotional situation. Parental alienation is becoming increasingly recognized by courts, and courts are acknowledging that parental alienation is a real problem.xii

GQ Law is experienced with all aspects of complex divorce and parentage cases that
involve contentious child-related issues. If you are having issues with parental alienation, GQ
Law can assist.

i Alan D. Blotcky, Overcoming Parental Alienation, PSYCHIATRIC TIMES (June 2, 2022),

ii Alan D. Blotcky, How to Recognize Parental Alienation, PSYCHOLOGY TODAY (May 11, 2021),

iii Ken Lewis, Parental Alienation Can be Emotional Child Abuse, TRENDS IN STATE COURTS
46–51 (2020),

iv Are There Different Degrees of Parental Alienation?, PSYCH LAW,

v Alan D. Blotcky & William Bernet, A Silent Epidemic: Parental Alienation in a Child is on par
with Physical and Sexual Abuse, PSYCHIATRIC TIMES (April 7, 2022),

vi Ken Lewis, Parental Alienation Can be Emotional Child Abuse, TRENDS IN STATE COURTS
46–51 (2020),

vii 127 Am. Jur. Proof of Facts 3d 237 (Originally published in 2012)

viii Philip M. Koszyk & William Bernet, Treatment and Prevention of Parental Alienation,
PSYCHIATRIC TIMES (March 12, 2020),

ix Alan D. Blotcky, Overcoming Parental Alienation, PSYCHIATRIC TIMES (June 2,2022),

x Alan Blotcky & William Bernet, Winning Parental Alienation Cases: A Roadmap for Family
Laywers, FAMILY LAWYER MAGAZINE (March 2, 2022),

xi Alan D. Blotcky, Overcoming Parental Alienation, PSYCHIATRIC TIMES (June 2, 2022),

xii Ashish Joshi, Leave No Child Behind Parental Alienation in Family Courts, 47 Litig. 33
(Summer 2021).