What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?


Is your ex-spouse turning your children against you? It’s a common worry, warranted or not. Many parents suffer with the thought that the other parent is saying bad things about them perhaps even blaming them for the divorce. This condition is so common that its been studied and given a name.

Parental alienation syndrome, also known as PAS, is the name of a psychological malady which occurs in a child when a parent –knowingly or not – destroys or destabilizes a child’s connection, love, and relation with the other parent. PAS principally arises in the framework of child-custody disputes, and may have long-lasting effects.

Causes of Parental Alienation

There are many different reasons and intentions for a parent to estranging an ex-spouse. Various reasons exist, too, for why a parent would deliberately damage the relation of their child with their own parent—at their child’s expense.

An alienating parent may:

  • Have unresolved anger against the other parent for supposed slights throughout the duration of their marriage; they may be incapable of separating those disputes from disputes with parenting.
  • May be insecure with their own parenting skills, thus projecting those fears or worries on the other parent.
  • May have paranoia, narcissism, or other personality disorder which makes them unable to tell they are hurting their child, leaving the parent unable to empathize with their feelings.
  • May have no distinct identity due to being so emotionally involved in their child’s life, they are thus threatened by the child’s relationship with the other parent.

 Early Warning Signs of Parental Alienation

What are signs your ex-spouse or even your own behavior is alienating?

  • Telling a child particular reasons for the divorce
  • Blaming the other parent for splitting up the family or money problems
  • Denying the other parent access to a child’s medical and school records or schedule of activities
  • Refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule
  • Scheduling too many activities for a child so that the other parent has no time to visit
  • Asking a child to choose between parents
  • Encouraging a child’s resentment towards the other parent
  • Using a child to secretly gather information or spy on the other parent
  • Purposely arranging temptations to interfere with the other parent’s visitation schedule
  • Acting hurt or sad to a child when he or she has a good time with the other parent

How Alienation Occurs

An alienating parent may use any number of techniques on a child. Among these are:

  • Discussing details of the divorce with a child and asking him or her to take sides.
  • Making war on the other parent’s lifestyle or character, including living situations, job, activities, and choice of boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Emboldening a child to pretend that the other parent does not exist.
  • Refusing to admit a child has fun with the other parent or forbidding a child from referring to the other parent.
  • Letting a child believe he or she can choose whether to spend time with the other parent, regardless of the set visitation schedule.
  • Leading a child to think there is reason to be scared of the other parent.
  • Lying about how the other parent treats a child.
  • Putting a child in the middle of a situationby asking him or her to spy on the other parent.

When a child has been successfully alienated, he or she may:

  • May not want to talk to or see the other parent.
  • Talk badly about the other parent using profane language and with mistaken descriptions of the other parent.
  • Claim to hate the other parent, yet have silly or weak reasons for their anger.
  • Feel protective of and support the alienating parent.
  • Will not want to be with or associate with the other parent’s family and friends.
  • Will not show any sign of guilt or empathy about hurting the other parent’s feelings.

Dealing with Parental Alienation

The majority of parents facing parental alienation in a child custody dispute are unsure of what to do, and simply hope the problem solves itself in time. Unfortunately, PAS could potentially damage the relation between the alienated parent and the child forever. When alienation achieves this level and severe damage is done to the child, it can be extremely difficult to reverse.

If you suspect P.A.S., keep a detailed log of events as they happen, writing down what occurred, what was said, and when an incident happened. It is vital to school the professionals, decision-makers, and authorities involved in custody matters about your condition if necessary. You may need an expert’s testimony in the courtroom, they should have the experience and training necessary to identify a case of parental alienation.

Remember that when determining a child’s best interests in a custody battle and for parenting time, one of the criteria is a parent’s willingness and ability to foster and promote the child’s relationship with the other parent.

If you do not get the sufficient amount of court-ordered time with your child, you may ask that the parent violating the court order be held in contempt of court. The sooner you let the court know of the violation of the court order, the more likely it is that the problem can be stopped before the damage becomes permanent and irreversible.

In particularly bad cases of parental alienation, parenting time may be restricted – especially if it rises to the level of certain emotional damage to the child.