Parental Alienation in Divorce Proceedings

Divorcing parents may suspect that their ex is trying to sabotage their relationship with the children. Sudden changes in behavior, unexplained outbursts from kids and manipulative behavior may be explained away as typical gamesmanship in custody proceedings, but it could also be an actual condition stemming from emotional trauma.

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is defined as mental disorder where a child treats one parent badly as a result of the other parent's attempts to sabotage their relationship. The condition was recognized and developed in the 1980's by Richard A. Gardner. While PAS has not been recognized as a disorder by the medical community, child psychologists and family therapists see many of the PAS "symptoms" in high-conflict divorces. Nevertheless, PAS has confounded custody evaluators and family courts despite fervent complaints from non-custodial parents.

Children are impressionable and can be easily indoctrinated with false information about a parent. This can lead to a child hating or acting out towards a parent. Then alienating parents can legitimately say that a child does not want to spend time with the other parent, despite their duty to nurture and promote such relationships.

The most common signs of PAS include:

  • Implied attacks made by the alienating parent. (Daddy left us because he didn't care enough about you. Or, I can't take you to soccer practice because mommy didn't pay for the league).
  • Using parenting time as a manipulation tool. (If you don't pay for my car repairs, I'll be forced to tell the kids that daddy doesn't want to see them.)
  • Children being forced to choose sides or being reprimanded by the alienating parent for supporting (or wanting to spend time with) the other parent.
  • The alienating parent blames their current hardships or life changes on the other parent, and conveys this to the children.

The most prominent reminder of PAS is Alec Baldwin's infamous voicemail rant from 2007. As his frustration was played out through media outlets, many saw a deranged parent who was out of control, while only a few understood the toll that PAS had taken on him as a father. Baldwin later explained that he was at his wits end after many years of PAS, and has since written a book on the topic.

Indeed, co-parenting with an alienator is a difficult and ongoing battle. However, patient parents can ultimately be successful by carefully explaining the alienator's actions in clear, unbiased terms, and diligently following their parenting time order.

If you believe you are losing your children through parental alienation, do not give up. An experienced family law attorney can advise you.