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In cases of parental alienation, these 8 steps should happen.
Parental alienation is a pathological phenomenon in high-conflict divorces where 1 parent sabotages a child’s relationship with the other parent. If the offending parent is successful in their mission, the child totally rejects the targeted parent; this would be severe alienation. Mild and moderate alienation involve partial rejection of a parent.1
What an alienating parent does not realize is that a child is harmed tremendously by the total or partial loss of a parent. Short-term and long-term negative consequences have been found as a result of a child’s alienation.2 In its severest form, parental alienation is child psychological abuse, as listed in DSM-5.3
There are many roadblocks in the diagnosis and treatment of parental alienation.4 An offending parent will vigorously deny being an alienator and confuse others by proclaiming that they are the victim. The alienated child will be strongly allied with the favored parent and claim that they alone have rejected the other parent without coaching or other influence. The alienated child’s attorney—the guardian ad litem (GAL)—often has no mental health training and will accept what the child says at face value, thereby reinforcing the alienation process. The alienating parent’s attorney will unabashedly encourage the alienating behavior because it is a “winning” strategy from a legal viewpoint. Most judges have little understanding of parental alienation and are often swayed by the combined voices of the GAL and the alienating parent’s attorney.
These are a few of the major roadblocks in parental alienation cases. These roadblocks are real and potentially catastrophic to a case. They can interfere with accurate diagnosis, the implementation of appropriate treatment, and ultimate legal decisions that are in the child’s best interest. These roadblocks can turn a case upside-down so that the alienation is missed or dismissed—or, worse yet, that the wrong parent is identified as the alienator and the child is placed, or remains, in the care of an abusive parent.
But these roadblocks can be overcome. Parental alienation cases can be accurately diagnosed, and appropriate treatment can ensue. Here is what needs to happen:
First, the targeted or rejected parent needs to make sure that a forceful attorney and an experienced mental health expert are on the team. Both professionals are critical to success. Neither can win the case alone. The mental health professional must have a strong understanding of the specific family dynamics associated with parental alienation. Without this knowledge base, the mental health professional will be susceptible to making serious errors in the case. This must be avoided by choosing the correct expert.
Second, documentation and a timeline of events and behaviors can be extremely compelling evidence in a parental alienation case. The documentation and timeline can be used by the attorney and mental health expert, especially in the courtroom. Judges pay attention to such evidence.
Third, false allegations of abuse must be confronted head-on so that they do not become entrenched and intractable in the case. Often, these allegations are used as weapons by the alienating parent.5 Multiple allegations of abuse during a legal proceeding are a huge red flag for fabrication.
Fourth, specific interventions must be proposed, usually by the mental health expert and the rejected parent’s attorney. Here are the necessary interventions: The alienating parent must have individual therapy, the alienating parent’s attorney must make it clear that the damaging behavior must cease, and the alienated child and rejected parent must have reunification therapy. This is the treatment template in all parental alienation cases.1 All of these interventions must take place. Reunification therapy will fail if the alienating parent’s destructive behavior is not stopped.
Fifth, in severe cases of alienation where there is total rejection of a parent, removal of the child from the alienating parent for some period of time is considered both essential and mandatory. Research and clinical experience show that such removal can be accomplished with excellent results.1
Sixth, nothing can sidetrack and undermine a parental alienation case more than enabling attorneys. Their unhelpful roles in the situation must be confronted. The alienating parent’s attorney and the GAL must be informed and guided by the mental health expert’s knowledge, experience, and understanding of the research and clinical literature.
Seventh, custody decisions must be based on accurate, comprehensive information about a family’s real dynamics. Parental alienation must not be overlooked, minimized, or dismissed. It is the goal of the mental health expert and the rejected parent’s attorney to present the true narrative of the alienation process in the family. At times, their voices must be strong and loud.
Eighth, the rejected parent must remain hopeful, determined, and proactive at every step along the way. Defeatism cannot creep in. Passivity is counterproductive. The rejected parent’s passion and love of the child must be the energizing force in uncovering and resolving the parental alienation pathology.
In sum, parental alienation cases can be managed effectively. It requires an experienced and assertive mental health expert, open and thoughtful attorneys, and a truly interested judge. These steps can lead to success. Overcoming parental alienation is within grasp.
Dr Blotcky is a clinical and forensic psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama. Dr Blotcky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Blotcky AD, Bernet W, Harman JJ. Roadmap for the treatment of parental alienation. Michigan Family Law Journal. 2022:15-18.
2. Koszyk PM, Bernet W. Treatment and prevention of parental alienation. Psychiatric Times. March 12, 2020. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/treatment-and-prevention-parental-alienation
3. Blotcky AD, Bernet W. A silent epidemic: Parental alienation in a child is on par with physical and sexual abuse. Psychiatric Times. April 7, 2022. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/a-silent-epidemic-parental-alienation
4. Blotcky AD, Bernet W. Winning parental alienation cases: A roadmap for family lawyers. Family Lawyer Magazine. March 2, 2022. https://familylawyermagazine.com/articles/winning-parental-alienation-cases/
5. Blotcky AD. False allegations of abuse can be a strategy in child custody litigation. Psychiatric Times. February 21, 2022. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/false-allegations-of-abuse-can-be-a-strategy-in-child-custody-litigation