Parental Alienation is a condition where a child, usually through the experience of having their parents divorced or separated, feels an unjustified hatred or extremely strong dislike of one parent. This makes it difficult or in some cases impossible for the parent to have a relationship with their child during this period of time.

Such feelings of parental alienation are indicated when a child shows no empathy or warmth toward the rejected parent. Such feelings can be exacerbated by others with negative comments or other similar actions.

Parental alienation should not be confused with child abuse, the two conditions are generally unrelated since a child acting in fear of what a parent has done before is symptomatic of child abuse. Parental alienation is a child reacting to the changing family situation and responding in a manner that usually not related to what the rejected parent has done, but the feelings that arise when divorce or separation occur.

Parental alienation is still somewhat controversial in both the legal and medical professions. While there is little doubt that children can react in a negative manner to a parent after a divorce or separation, there is still not enough evidence to suggest that this may be a syndrome or actual psychological condition.

The history of parental alienation is brief one with the first serious studies being performed in the 1970s. Richard A. Gardner proposed the idea of parental alienation syndrome based on his studies, a view that has generally not been accepted by the medical community at large. But other research has pointed more towards the alienated child and the social dynamic of divorce and separation on the family unit. The breakdown of communication between the child and the rejected parent may involve several factors beyond the break up of the family.

Such alienation may include other members of the family and how they express their feelings towards the rejected parent. Therefore, tackling this issue in therapy generally goes beyond attempting to re-establish the bond between parent and child, but the dysfunction of the entire family must be handled as well. Often, the parent that the child attaches to may promote the alienation of the other parent, even if that was not the intention. But the showing of disappointment, anger and negative comments can promote the feelings of rejection in the child.

In some cases, the actions of the rejected parent may contribute to the alienation even if unintentionally. Fathers in particular are usually the recipient of rejection in these cases. In many instances the father does not seek an emotional, sympathetic bond but instead enforces a rigid attitude and a critical attitude which may be meant to impose discipline on the child, but instead drive them further to reject the parent.

Parental alienation is a complex issue that can involve many factors which on the surface may seem benign, but they contribute to the feelings of the child and exacerbate a situation that could either be easily treated or avoided entirely.



Raleigh divorce lawyer Scott Allen handles modification of custody, child custody, and temporary custody hearings and has over seventeen years of experience.  

If you have questions or need assistance call him at (919) 863-4183 or email at