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Silverman & Silverman, Attorneys at Law

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Does California Recognize Parental Alienation?

Disputes about child custody are stressful on parents and the child(ren). In severely damaged relationships between spouses, the child(ren) usually suffers the most from the parents’ continued battles and becomes caught in the middle of the parents’ issues with one another. One main concern that parents have when experiencing disputes about custody is parental alienation.

Parental Alienation Syndrome has been determined to be invalid and not shown to have any scientific validity. Parental Alienation does occur: one parent attempts to undermine the child(ren)'s relationship with the other parent often to satisfy his or her own pathological objectives. Parental alienation may occur due to the emotional turmoil of high-conflict divorce when one parent may work to pit the child(ren) against the other parent. This use of the child(ren) can be very harmful to a child’s psychological well-being.

The attempting parent's influence can be overt – making negative statements to the child about the other parent or to others in the presence of the child(ren). Often the attempt to alienate is subtle or covert – when the alienating parent shows a significant amount of enthusiasm, warmth and interest when the child(ren) says negative things about the other or alienated parent. The
alienating parent's acts reinforce the child(ren) to continue making these negative statements and may act in a cold and rejecting manner when the child(ren) makes positive statements about the alienated parent.

This type of conditioning by the parent is difficult to reverse, particularly when the child is very young. Reversal of the conditioning often requires assistance of an experienced psychotherapist who has experience in "re-bonding" alienated relationships, who can conduct family therapy primarily with the child(ren) and the alienated parent. Reversal, also, requires that the alienating parent receive individual therapy and address the psychopathology that is the cause of the alienating behavior.

Examples of parental alienation include, and are not limited to, the following:

  • When a father tells a child, “Your mom doesn’t want to see you tonight” when, in fact, the mother is sick or the father told the mother the child could not visit the mother; or
  • When a mother repeatedly tells the child, “Your father doesn’t love us” or similar statements when, in fact, the father may not be available due to his employment obligations or a disability.

California courts regard and consider accusations of parental alienation seriously. The goal of the court is for the child to have the best possible relationship with each parent. Before determining the best course of action in cases involving parental alienation, the court may order a psychological evaluation. Since the parents in this type of high-conflict custody case may be
8 placing their own desires above their child(ren)’s well-being, the court can rely on an objective third party when making its decision. The court does not want a child to remain in an abusive household nor want the child to be estranged from one parent. When presented with claims of alienation, it will be crucial that the court determine the reason for the child(ren)’s being alienated, and how to remedy and repair the broken relationship so as to establish both parents’ roles in raising their child(ren). 

We are experienced in child-custody matters and with Mr. Silverman’s background in psychology, he is familiar with parental alienation. We can request from the court appropriate remedies to assist you and your child(ren). The challenge in severe alienation cases lies in gaining the remedy for you quickly from the court. Moreover, such cases are extremely complex
and almost always require expert testimony. If you are going through a dissolution, which has parental alienation issues, it is important that you be represented by an attorney with a psychological background and who can help you address these issues effectively and in the children's best interests.

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