Parental alienation is the phrase used to describe one parent’s intentional efforts to fuel a child’s negative feelings about the other parent. The phrase is used loosely in many situations involving parents who do not get along well. But there are many cases in which a parent’s campaign to alienate a child from the other parent is real and consequential.
Parental alienation is an example of the problems that arise from high-conflict co-parenting. It stands to reason that if there the less conflict between the parents, and the higher level of cooperation, communication and mutual respect, that better the child will fare. And there are some parents who experience conflict and a lack of cooperation but who do not engage in any kind of parental alienation.
When parental alienation is present, the alienating parent is likely to deny any intentional alienation. They will argue that the child is not bonded with the other parent, and that the problem has nothing to do with their own alienating behavior. Either way, the situation calls for the involvement of a therapist. If the real problem is a lack of bonding, and not parental alienation, the relationship dynamics can be improved with therapy. And if the real problem is actual parental alienation, the situation can also be improved with a family therapist.
The most unfortunate scenario is one where custody is modified as a result of parental alienation. The family court has the authority and discretion to do this. But how sad for (a) a child’s living situation to be disrupted by (b) being placed into the primary custody of a parent about whom the child has been fed lots of negative information and (c) the child may have no good understanding of why this is happening.