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Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a type of abuse by one parent who “programs” the child or children of the marriage to denigrate or “target” the other parent in an effort to undermine and interfere with the child’s relationship with that parent.  This syndrome is often a sign of the offending parent’s inability to separate from the couple’s conflict and focus on the child’s needs.  Rather, the offending parent uses the children in his or her war against the other parent.

Parental alienation deprives children of their right to be loved and to show love to both of their parents.  The alienating parent (and often other family members) mentally manipulate or bully children into believing a loving parent is the cause of all of the their or the family’s problems; therefore the other parent must be the enemy, be feared, hated, disrespected and avoided.  Hatred is not a normal emotion for children, rather it must be taught. 

Signs of parental alienation include:

  • Bad-mouthing the other parent to the children
  • Limiting contact
  • Erasing the parent from the children’s lives
  • Forcing the children to reject the other parent
  • Forcing the children to choose sides
  • Creating the impression the other parent is dangerous
  • Belittling comments to the other parent in front of the children
  • Calling the children to testify against the other parent
  • Convincing the children the other parent is creating financial hardship on the family

Every child has a fundamental right and need for a loving relationship with both parents and to be denied that right by one parent, without sufficient justification (abuse, serious neglect, etc.), is in itself a form of child abuse, since it is the child who is violated by an alienating parent’s behavior.  The children suffer most.  Reunification of the family takes a skilled professional and can be a trying time since the children are often in a continued abusive relationship with the alienating parent, who cannot let go of his or her own conflict with the other parent. 

Children deserve better as parental alienation leaves children with deep emotional scars as damaging as abducted children or victims of sexual abuse and extreme conflicts.  Children often are left with post-traumatic stress syndrome due to the damage caused by the alienating parent.  The severe effects of parental alienation on children are well-documented: low self-esteem and self-hatred, lack of trust, depression and substance abuse are widespread in children who have suffered through parental alienation.  Children internalize the hatred that is taught to be targeted to the alienated parent.

© 2017 Odin, Feldman & Pittleman, P.C.

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About this Author

Darlene S. Lesser, Odin Feldman law firm, Family Law Attorney
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Darlene Lesser’s practice focuses on family law issues including negotiating and litigating custody, visitation, relocation, divorce division of property, finances and retirement funds, as well as alimony and child support. Her trial experience as an assistant Public Defender in Florida enhances her representation of clients in all aspects of litigated issues including domestic-related criminal matters such as protective orders and domestic assault. Darlene represents clients throughout Virginia, including the Northern Virginia Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince...

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