Jodi Argentino, Esq.

The allegation of Parental Alienation has been overused in custody litigation so much so that it’s hard for those who encounter it to not just automatically bristle at and shut down any conversation wherein that is a factor.  There are some professionals who do not actually believe Parental Alienation Theory to be a valid theory – and they are joined by many within the psychological community, though it remains a contested topic (thus making it important to do your homework before hiring an expert). 

The “A word” simply became a catch-all allegation in any situation where one parent was having a breakdown of a relationship with their child, so as to shift blame from that parent or external factors to the other parent, who, inevitably, in a contested custody situation, would be deemed the evildoer. 

More likely, however, is that Parent Alienation describes a very specific situation, which actually occurs rarely as compared with other causes for parent-child relationship breakdown.  True parental alienation is a long-term and pervasive trauma and a slow extraction of even the positive concept of someone in a child’s life.  It is not a short-lived trauma.  It does not go away and cannot be chalked up to a phase. Children subject to Parental Alienation often have no guilt or ambivalence about their rejection of the alienated parent, which is a key point of evaluation.  The rejection is present, but they often cannot even tell what is happening. (Reference: https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9032/10/6/1134/pdf

That said, oft-overlooked is Parental Estrangement which is rejection based in some trauma actually experienced (per perceived) by the child at the hands of the rejected parent.  This is not always something obvious to the parent and, frankly, often unacknowledged due to their own emotional/psychological capacity.  This could even be something such as a parent’s own emotional state of creating drama or chaos that prevents the child from feeling safe in their presence.  This can happen when a parent has untreated mental health issues or disordered personality traits, as well as when there is an overt act (abuse, betrayal, neglect, or something far more subtle) that causes a child to emotionally separate from them.  It is often easier for a parent, particularly in the context of the whirlwind of emotions in a custody dispute, to shift blame to the other parent than to recognize any wrongdoing or deficit of their own. 

It is important to note that these concepts are complex and not for the faint of heart.   Any allegations of alienation should be judiciously asserted as there’s more often a different root cause for the concern. Allegations of alienation can not only set an enormity of litigation into motion but, more importantly, may distract from the ability to address any actual issue in the parent-child relationship to develop an appropriate healing solution.    

The question for the client becomes: which is most important, the healing or the blame? 

If you are concerned about impediments or challenges to your parent-child relationship or have been accused of alienation, contact Argentino Fiore Law & Advocacy so that we can work with you to develop a strategy for understanding and resolution. 

Category