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Parental Alienation During a Custody Case

There aren’t very many situations that can cause us as rational, functioning adults to completely lose our minds. We have hopefully learned through the course of our lives that it is always best to keep our cool in stressful situations. We deal with bad drivers on the way to work, angry bosses and annoying co-workers every day without hauling off and punching someone in the face.

However, when a situation arises that directly affects the wellbeing of our children, most of us parents will find that keeping that cool head is ten times more difficult. The love and the bond that we have with our defenseless children causes a rage inside of us when they are threatened, that is an instinctual reflex has helped people propagate back when humans hid from predators in caves.

Even though we rarely must protect our children from being eaten by lions and such, that instinct still thrives to this day. Now, the most common occurrence of that instinctual behavior unfortunately will manifest in a contested custody hearing. Normal, rational adults can and will become raving lunatics when their relationship with their kids is at risk. This will unfortunately sometimes create behaviors that may not be in the children’s best interest.

Parental alienation is only one tactic that could be used in a divorce or custody case. Understanding when you will need a good divorce lawyer when custody is at issue is very important to protect your relationship with your child.

What is Parental Alienation?

The term “alienation” is defined as a process where one thing is isolated from another. In the case of the alienation of a child from a parent, normally one parent will start to do things that have the intention of damaging the relationship the child has with the other parent. These things can be overt or subtle, but the actions have the express intention of trying to convince the child that the other parent is “bad,” so that the child will express behaviors showing a disinterest in wanting to spend time with the other parent.

Examples and Signs of Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation can be mild or severe. In many instances the parent that is instigating the alienation may not even be fully aware of what they are doing. The parent causing the alienation could be so overwhelmed by fear of losing custody of their child, that they are instigating the alienation without even realizing what they are doing. In other cases, the alienation is overt and intentional.

Here at Justice Law Center, we have seen parental alienation occur many times during divorces and contested custody cases. This and other tactics parents will use to create a rift in the relationship between the child and the other parent are commonplace. You can find articles about this and more on our legal information resource blog.

Some examples of parental alienation are as follows, when seen must be taken very seriously.

  • The child suddenly begins to refuse to communicate with the other parent. This is one clear cut sign that parental alienation has begun. Normally this refusal will come out of the blue and be very confusing at first.
  • The alienating parent starts trying to shorten time spent with the child. This could take form as the parent “accidently” picking up the child early, or even denying visitation outright altogether.
  • The child begins to use words or phrases that mimic the alienating parent. This will normally happen when the child starts to blame the other parent for the divorce or separation.
  • The alienating parent tries to limit communication with the other parent. This can be refusing to allow telephone calls during non-visitation times.
  • The child begins to feel as though they must choose one parent over the other.

Parental Alienation Can be Child Abuse

In 2010, Brazil passed a law criminalizing parental alienation. (Brazil: Parental Alienation Criminalized, 2010). This law was passed on the grounds that Brazilian lawmakers considered parental alienation “moral abuse” and the act violated the child’s ability to have a healthy family.

Researchers in the U.S. Jennifer Jill Harman, Edward Kruk and Denise A Hines, argue that our court system should classify parental alienation as child abuse. Their research shows that parental alienation has many corresponding factors with emotional child abuse. Emotional responses to parental alienation include making the child feel guilty for showing love and loyalty to their other parent, as well as creating an unfounded fear that their parent may be dangerous. (Parental alienation is child abuse say researchers of child development, 2019)

The perpetrators of parental alienation will intentionally lie and confuse the child with the specific intent on destroying the parent-child relationship for their own ends. Often, the motivation for this is to try to gain the upper hand in a custody case.


While parental alienation is not yet illegal in the United States, it is seriously frowned upon by the courts. With it being so common in divorce and custody cases, proof of parental alienation will often be used against the alienating parent in a divorce or custody trial.  In the long run, if the parental alienation is discovered and addressed in court, the only damage that the alienating parent will cause is on the innocence of the children themselves. If left unchecked, it could cause permanent damage to the relationship of the other parent.


Brazil: Parental Alienation Criminalized. (2010, September 2). Library of Congress.

Parental alienation is child abuse say researchers of child development. (2019, February). Retrieved from Child & Family Blog.

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