Parental alienation in child custody cases is one parent harming a child by attacking the child’s relationship with the other parent.



Parental alienation can be minimal, moderate, or severe. It is a continuum.


“You are just like your Father,” spoken in a negative way.

“You are just like your Mother,” spoken in a negative way.

“Your mom (or dad) is psycho.” Sometimes Mom or Dad is in fact mentally ill; that is something that involves a diagnosis and treatment, e.g., bipolar, narcissist, and may require medication. The issue is what level, if any, it will benefit the child to have information about the illness.

“Your mom [or dad] left us. He doesn’t love us anymore.”

“Your dad [or mom] doesn’t love you, because he isn’t paying child support.”


The motives for parental alienation include misguided concern, anxiety, fear [sometimes not entirely unfounded], insecurity, loss, hurt, and pain.


Here are links to two of the top books published on issues relating to parental alienation. These books are expensive, and are written in sometimes technical language, because they are intended for mental health professionals:

Overcoming Parent-Child Contact Problems

Children Who Resist Postseparation Parental Contact


Every divorce judge I’ve ever seen means well, but they may literally be unable to stop alienation in severe cases. One of the most powerful (a two-edged sword, hopefully it helps more than it harms) options is taking primary custody of the child away from the favored parent and awarding custody to the other parent. If both parents are alienating, it could involve declaring them unfit, and ordering a dependency action in juvenile court. Even the threat of these measures may be enough to improve the behavior.


In plain English, this means traditional therapy for the child will backfire. It will make things worse instead of better. It gives the child a voice to parrot or advocate what the child feels the favored parent wants.


Many alienating parents are smart enough to avoid saying things outright to alienate the child, but the child perceives what the parent wants through non-verbal cues. They perceive the hatred, anxiety, hurt, or anger Mom feels, and they understand she doesn’t want them to spend more time with Dad.


An alienating parent may not understand that the courts would much rather help the other parent to become better, if possible, than to simply stop letting them be a parent. There is a desire in the favored parent to be done with the other parent, and have the child be done with them too. Custody trials are often filled with evidence of mistakes the other parent has made, in a desire not just to stop the bad behavior, but to stop that person from being a parent.