Divorce and separation can breed bad blood between parents and children when one partner uses the children to target the other partner. Parental alienation can be described as the efforts on the part of one parent to turn a child/ren against the other parent. Parental Alienation Syndrome, is the child’s unwarranted rejection of one parent in response to the attitudes and actions of the other parent. The child psychologist who first introduced the term Parental Alienation Syndrome in 1985, was Richard Gardner. He used it to describe behaviors in a child/ren who are exposed to parental alienation.

Parental alienation is when one parent discredits the other parent to a child/ren which the parent’s share. Accusations can be mild, or they can become incredibly severe. This distorts the child’s perception of the alienated parent, regardless of how good their relationship was with that parent before. Essentially, the parent-child relationship suffers, whether the allegations are true or not. If a child is repeatedly told, for example, that their Father is a bad person and doesn’t want to see them, even if this is not true, the child may eventually refuse to talk to or see the Father when the opportunity arises.

In determining whether a child is suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome Gardner identified eight “symptoms” (or criteria) for it, namely :

  • The child constantly and unfairly criticizes the alienated parent;
  • The child doesn’t have any strong evidence, specific examples, or justifications for the criticisms;
  • The child’s feelings about the alienated parent aren’t mixed — they’re all negative, with no redeeming qualities to be found;
  • The child claims the criticisms are all their own conclusions and based on their own independent thinking; 
  • The child has unwavering support for the alienator;
  • The child doesn’t feel guilty about mistreating or hating the alienated parent;
  • The child uses terms and phrases that seem borrowed from adult language when referring to situations that never happened or happened before the child’s memory;
  • The child’s feelings of hatred toward the alienated parent expand to include other family members related to that parent;

Unfortunately, Parental Alienation Syndrome is difficult to use in a legal context when it comes to residence agreements in respect of a minor child/ren, because it is hard to prove.

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Author – Kate Bailey – Hill

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