The phrase parental alienation has become somewhat ubiquitous in custody cases these days, reminiscent of the path ADHD and bipolar disorder took years ago when they became the disorders du jour and popularized by our culture and media. Unfortunately, when that happens, the terms become watered down and eventually dismissed as overused and exaggerated, leaving those who are really suffering to feel victimized by ignorance. Likewise, parental alienation is a complicated and overused concept, but does exist as extreme and abusive, albeit rare at that level. Regardless, we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water and act as if it’s not happening simply because everyone wants to use it as their legal custody defense. Here are a few facts to consider:
PA exists on a continuum from mild to severe, and attempts to alienate result in different symptoms than successful alienation. Understanding the difference determines whether or not the syndrome exists. PA can’t simply be determined by looking at a list of criteria. It takes a trained professional and several months of working with a family to understand if it is “justified” or “pathological” alienation. Without making that determination, children can be harmed by legal and therapeutic remedies. The alienated parent often innocently contributes to the alienation, which can be the result of an intentional manipulation by the alienator! A therapist or attorney who doesn’t understand the “game” of alienation on both sides could very likely give poor advice and, again, harm the children.
You don’t want to be an armchair psychologist around the concept of alienation in the courtroom. Instead, you should make a good enough case to convince the judge to order a parental alienation assessment by a trained professional. Simply ordering reunification therapy for the children and the estranged parent, without first knowing what you are dealing with, is probably going to be an emotional and financial disservice to the family.