The allegations may be vague or, as in the case of Donald and Marcia, blatant. They may be so extreme that it is difficult to determine whether the parent making them truly believes what he or she is saying. Does the alienating parent maliciously concoct and spread an evolving web of lies, then “support” them by exaggerating or manufacturing “evidence”? Or is the etiology of this extreme behavior a mental illness such as delusional thinking or paranoia? It may be a formidable task (and a lengthy one) to figure out which is the case. Or there may be a combination of a mental disorder (e.g., paranoia) and deliberate misconduct such as lying. From the standpoint of the child’s welfare and the immediate task before a court, the etiology may not matter. Regardless of the alienating parent’s motivation, the child stands to lose his relationship with a parent who loved him.
One might reasonably contend that any parent who severs a child’s relationship with a parent is himself or herself unfit to have primary custody. In such extreme cases, a court must intervene. Rescue of the child is all-important. Treating the alienating parent, even if there is appropriate treatment available, clearly is secondary. In the case of Donald and Marcia, Donald was awarded sole custody of the child. Marcia was permitted supervised visitation with the children. She emphatically denied that she had a mental illness or that she needed treatment of any sort.