In a number of divorce and child custody cases, some children may exhibit what is known as “child alienation” symptoms or child alienation syndrome.  This is where the child exhibits a strong resistance to being with one of their parents.  In other words, the child strongly prefers one parent over the other, usually preferring the custodial parent.  In severe cases, the child may be outright hostile towards the other parent. 

Child alienation is sometimes referred to as “Parental Alienation Syndrome” or “Parental Alienation”.  Parental alienation is where the parent paints a negative image of the other parent in the child’s mind, or where they speak negatively of the other parent. 

However, child alienation may or may not be caused by the actions of the parent; in some cases, child alienation occurs as a natural result of the child’s reaction to the divorce/custody arrangement. 

Some symptoms and signs of child alienation include:
  • Strong aversion towards the other parent- for example, the child may make statements such as “I don’t want to go visit Mommy!” or “I don’t like being with Daddy!”
  • Hiding from the other parent: Even when the child visits with the other parent, they may dislike spending time with them, or may lock themselves in their room to avoid contact with them
  • Placing blame or rejection upon the other parent
  • Speaking negatively about one parent to their friends, peers, or teachers
  • Running away from home
  • Ignoring the parent or not spending any time with the parent

How Does Child Alienation Affect Child Custody?

Child alienation and parental alienation can strongly affect child custody determinations.  For example, the court may discover that the child is already manifesting a dislike or fear of one parent.  In such cases, the court will factor this information in when creating a child custody order or when formulating child visitation schedules.

In all child custody cases, the court will base all decisions on the “child’s best interest” standard.  Thus, if the court suspects any instances of child alienation or parental alienation, they may conduct further investigation to determine which arrangement will be best for the child. 

It may be the case that the child is manifesting symptoms because there are actual instances of physical or sexual abuse.  In such cases, the court may even place a restraining order on the abusive parent. 

In other cases, the court may determine that it’s actually in the child’s best interest to spend time equally with both parents.  This is done in efforts to help the child obtain equal exposure to both parents.  Of course, such determinations will depend on each individual case. 

How Can Child Alienation Be Prevented?

Child alienation can be prevented through diligent observation on behalf of the parents.  The parent(s) should take note if the child begins acting in a hostile or indifferent manner towards the other parent.  The parents should avoid making negative comments about the other party in the child’s presence, and in fact are encouraged to make positive comments about the other party.

It may also help for the parent to seek counseling from a social worker or an attorney, who can teach the parent how to recognize symptoms of child alienation or parent alienation.  In severe cases, the intervention of a health or psychological professional may be necessary.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Child Alienation?

Child alienation can have seriously negative effects on a child’s upbringing and health.  If you need assistance with any legal issues such as child custody, visitation, or child support, you may wish to contact a qualified child custody lawyer in your area.  Your lawyer can help you recognize and prevent what child alienation is, and can help represent you during court hearings if a legal proceedings become necessary.