The difference between parental estrangement and alienation

On Behalf of | Oct 1, 2021 | Parental Alienation

In highly contentious divorce case involving children, some of the most toxic damage that occurs is the deliberate attempts by one parent to turn the children away from the other parent. Even worse is when both parents try to get their children on their side while battling over everything from the family home to custody, visitation and marital property.

When one side accuses the other of child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence in a courtroom, they must have evidence to present to the judge. Convincing a young child that their attachment to the other parent is somehow not what is seems, or that certain events occurred that perhaps this parent has exaggerated or fabricated, can serve this purpose, but at the cost of profoundly altering the child’s psychological connection to the other parent.

Estrangement or alienation?

 When a child rejects one parent during or after divorce, there is a distinction between whether the child’s behavior is the result of estrangement or alienation. If the parent has indeed been abusive, rejecting, or in any way disruptive of the process of parental bonding over the history of the relationship, the estrangement that results is the child’s justifiable response to what has happened.

When the child experiences parental alienation, however, the rejection of one parent is unjustifiable. In this case, the alienator, usually the other parent, will attempt to break the psychological connection that the child has by sharing their own avoidance or negative attitudes about the other parent, or attributing negative motives to the other parent’s behaviors.

In high-conflict divorces, parental alienation can take many forms and result in different behaviors:

  • In mild form, the child resists visitation but still enjoys connecting with the parent when they are alone together
  • In moderate cases, the child strongly rejects the other parent and remains resentful and opposing during their time together
  • In severe form, the child resists contact with the other parent and may run away or hide so as not to have to visit them

Not only does this manipulation cause suffering to the affected parent, but the children may begin to process the alienation as they would the death of that parent. This grief can transform into feelings of neglect or anger, and they may mirror the negative traits of the alienating parent.

For residents of Michigan and across the country, defending yourself against aggressive attacks during a divorce can include a nuanced approach that recognizes the symptoms of parental alienation. This will help you to not only fight for your reputation and character, but also your parental rights and the emotional health of your children.