Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation is sometimes the result of or at least in part due to a child’s resistance to spending time with one parent. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts sets out 10 tips on how to address this type of parental alienation in their Ask the Experts publication:


  1. It is uncommon that a case presented as “alienation” or parental alienation syndrome” involves just one dynamic that contributes to the child’s response to the targeted parent. A dichotomous conceptualization that characterizes the situation as either alienation or estrangement is rarely accurate or helpful to develop effective interventions. The most common case might be called a “hybrid case” and must be understood from a family system’s perspective.


  1. Always evaluate systemically. Consider child development, history of the parent-child relationships, parental abuse, parenting problems, the effects of highly conflictual co-parenting, and other contextual factors (ongoing litigation, financial issues, the impact of extended family, etc.).


2a. Reunification with the non-custodial parent is not the primary goal of intervention, but a by-product of individual and relationship work with family members.


  1. Clear and specific court orders for parental access and intervention are necessary but not sufficient for effective intervention.


3a. Mandate information exchanges and joint decision making between parents who share legal custody, regardless of the physical custody timeshare (even if no contact is occurring with a rejected parent).


  1. Professionals involved cannot mirror the conflicted process of the family system: the likelihood that intervening professionals will become aligned in the polarized dynamics of the family system can only be avoided by collaborative professional work supported by structures that allow information sharing and the coordination of the team’s treatment. Ongoing adversarial legal processes tend to be detrimental to successful outcomes.


  1. Any mental health professional in the community won’t do. Professionals who work in these cases need to have specialized experience and skill. See the AFCC Guidelines for Court Involved Therapy1, professional practice guidelines for mental health professionals working with these cases.


  1. Custody change requires risk analysis and should not be a punitive measure or based only on the evidence of a parent engaging in alienation.


  1. An ounce of early intervention when there is evidence of a child resisting visitation (or even before the child begins resisting) is worth a pound of legal and mental health intervention when these problems become entrenched.


  1. Parenting coordination is almost always a necessary role for case management in these cases, unless the judicial officer is willing and able to intensively manage the case.


  1. Some coercive court authority is often needed to support compliance with treatment and access orders. The favored parent and child are rarely motivated to comply with orders that support reunification, and a coercive component to interventions (i.e., the risk of court sanctions) is often necessary for progress to occur in these cases.


  1. In the most entrenched cases, after reunification interventions have failed, sometimes the least detrimental alternative is a well-prepared intervention that provides the rejected parent an opportunity to give the child a “parting message.” This message explains that the parent will let go of continued efforts to reconnect for the moment, but allows them the opportunity to express their love and commitment to the child with an open door in the future.1


1Ask the Experts from the AFCC eNEWS: Guidance from Leading Family Law Professionals, Top Ten Tips When a Child is Resisting or Rejecting Contact with a Parent (March 2014), Robin M. Deutsch, PhD, and Matthew J. Sullivan, PhD


Parental Alienation - Deborah Todd Law

Deborah A. Todd