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What Is Parental Alienation? And Why Is the Idea So Controversial?

An especially controversial topic in family law today is parental alienation, which psychiatrists say can happen when one parent intentionally tries to poison the relationship between the child and the other parent.

The alienated child might pull away not only from a formerly loved father or mother, but also from that parent's extended family. In other words, the pain of parental alienation can extend well beyond the feelings of the alienated child and the maligned parent -- whole families can be affected.

Why is the idea of parental alienation so controversial?

Child custody disputes can be extremely heated, even explosive, and parents have been known to lie in order to cause harm to their co-parents. Psychiatrists say that in some cases parents have effectively brainwashed their children to believe that the other parent is unloving when that simply isn't true. In extreme cases, children have been pressured into making false allegations of child abuse.

On the other hand, child abuse is a devastating reality, and there is legitimate concern that the idea of parental alienation has been used in court in such a way as to downplay or ignore abuse.

In fact, some psychiatrists say that there is insufficient evidence to show that parental alienation is a diagnosable disorder.

According to one study, in 80 percent of cases in which the mother claimed that the father abused the child, the mother lost primary custody.

When a child custody dispute goes to court, it is up to a judge to decide what is in the best interests of the child. If the parent accused of abuse denies the allegation, the judge must determine the truth based on the available facts. A finding in favor of the accused parent could result in a very negative outcome for the parent who alleged abuse. And if the abuse was real although not enough evidence was presented in court, the child could be placed in a dangerous situation with an abusive parent.

If you and your co-parent are in a heated dispute over child custody, don't hesitate to speak with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible. Too much is at stake to try to handle this on your own.

At Nix | Poet, we aggressively protect the rights of Texas parents involved in disputes with their co-parents. In any case, our top priority is to ensure that the child's best interests are protected now and in the future.

For more on these matters, please see our family law overview.

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