To alienate means to make separate. To estrange means to make indifferent. In family law, both terms relate to a breakdown in a child‘s relationship with a parent.
Children can become estranged from one parent for a good reason that has nothing to do with the behaviour of the other parent. In some cases, a child’s relationship with one parent can be damaged by the actions of the other parent, sometimes in the course of a custody battle and sometimes intentionally. These children are usually said to have been alienated from the other parent.
This section will provide an introduction to the problem of alienated and estranged children, and discuss what the experts have to say about a largely discredited theory called Parental Alienation Syndrome. It will also look at ways of dealing with alienated and estranged children during parenting disputes, and provide a selection of helpful online and printed resources.
The difference between an estranged child and an alienated child is that an estranged child has grown apart from the parent for reasons that are, to be blunt, reasonable and realistic. An alienated child, however, is the victim of one parent’s efforts to destroy the child’s relationship with the other parent.
An estranged child is either absolutely ambivalent about the other parent or enraged by the other parent. These feelings are, however, justified by the child’s experience of the separation or by the child’s experience of that parent.
These children are usually estranged as a result of:
- witnessing violence committed by that parent against the other parent,
- being the victim of abuse from that parent,
- the parent’s persistently immature and self-centred behaviour,
- the parent’s unduly rigid and restrictive parenting style, and/or
- the parent’s own psychological or psychiatric issues.
The point here is that the child’s experiences make the child’s rejection of a parent reasonable, and are an adaptive and protective response to the parent’s behaviour.
The feelings of alienated children, however, are neither reasonable nor the result of the rejected parent’s conduct.
Alienated children reject a parent without guilt or sadness and without an objectively reasonable cause. Their views of the alienated parent are grossly distorted and exaggerated.
Alienation is most easily defined as the complete breakdown of a child’s relationship with a parent as a result of a parent’s efforts to turn a child against the other parent. Typically, alienation is only a problem when the parents are involved in extremely bitter and heated litigation as a result. Not every case of high conflict litigation involves alienation, but it does happen. A 1991 study by the American Bar Association found indications of alienation in the majority of 700 high-conflict divorce cases studied over 12 years.
This sort of intentional alienation is absolutely wrong and virtually unforgivable. In some circumstances, alienation can amount to child abuse. As J.M. Bone and M.R. Walsh put it in their article “Parental Alienation Syndrome: How to detect it and what to do about it,” published in 1999 in the Florida Bar Journal, 73(3): 44-48:
“Any attempt at alienating the children from the other parent should be seen as a direct and willful violation of one of the prime duties of parenthood.”
The parent most likely to attempt to alienate a child from the other parent is the parent who has the child for most of the time, usually because of an interim order or some other sort of temporary arrangement.
The sorts of behaviours that suggest an intention to alienate a child from the other parent include, among other things:
- making negative comments about the other parent to the child,
- stating or implying that the child is in danger when with the other parent,
- grilling the child about his or her activities, meals and living conditions when with the other parent,
- stating or implying that the activities, meals and living conditions offered by the other parent are deficient or problematic,
- setting up activities that the child will enjoy during times when the child is with the other parent,
- telling the child that it’s up to him or her to decide whether to visit the other parent, and
- stating or implying that the child is being abused or maltreated by the other parent.
The consequences of parental alienation or attempted alienation can be quite profound. Alienation at its best is a form of psychological programming; at worst, it’s brainwashing. Alienation may result in the permanent destruction of a child’s relationship with a parent and in long-lasting psychological problems.
In their article, Bone and Walsh conclude that when alienation has been identified, the solution is to deal with it immediately:
“When attempted [parental alienation syndrome] has been identified, successful or not, it must be dealt with swiftly by the court. If it is not, it will contaminate and quietly control all other parenting issues and then lead only to unhappiness, frustration, and, lastly, parental estrangement. … While any application which flows from a suspicion of alienation will be costly and worsen the conflict between the parents, it is urgent that the alienation be stopped immediately if its long-term impact is to be avoided.”
read the full article here:- http://wiki.clicklaw.bc.ca/index.php/Estrangement_and_Alienation