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Parental Alienation and How it Impacts Divorce Matters

Feb 27, 2023 | Written by: William J. Rudnik, Esq. |

Parental alienation is a “buzz phrase” in child custody matters.  While it is thrown about quite often, there is a dispute among psychologists as to whether it exists, whether it is a psychiatric syndrome, whether it is a medical term, and how to specifically address it in child custody matters. Some professionals believe it should be included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or ICD code (International Classification of Diseases), while others are adamant that it should not.  Regardless of whether parental alienation should be a classified medical term or syndrome, or should be included in the DSM or ICD code, does not necessarily matter.  What is important is to use all the resources available to address a situation where there is parental alienating behavior, regardless of the terminology you want to use to identify it.  If you have gone through a divorce or get divorced in the future and have younger children, hopefully you will not have to deal with a parental alienation situation that impacts custody and parenting time.  These types of cases can become very difficult and stressful, for not only the parents, but the children, the attorneys, and the judges. 

Parental alienating behavior consists of words or actions from one parent, either directly or indirectly to the child, which impacts the child in a manner where the child does not want to spend time with the other parent.  When facing a situation where a child wants to spend little or no time with one parent, we must look closely at the facts to try to determine the cause.  Does the child have a legitimate reason for these feelings?  Is it a situation where the child is aligned with one parent without any type of alienating behavior?  Situations where the child is aligned with one parent are more common than parental alienation situations.  We must also look at not only the reasons for the child’s attitude toward the “non-favored parent” but also whether the child has mental health issues, whether the favored or non-favored parent has mental or behavioral health issues, and what the child has been exposed to during the marriage and after the divorce has been filed.  Are there substance abuse or alcohol problems within the family that have impacted the child?  What is the relationship between the parents?  Is it a high-conflict type of situation where the child wants to avoid the conflict?  In cases where there is parental alienating behavior, and a child has a strained relationship with a parent, we often use experts who understand custody, alignment, parental alienation and other dynamics in the parent/child and parent/parent relationships.  This can involve a therapist or counselor for either parent or the child, or it can involve an evaluation as to whether there is parental alienating behavior. 

As an attorney, I encourage my clients to follow all custody and parenting time orders and to focus on the child’s best interest, which except in very limited extreme circumstances includes having a strong relationship with both parents.  I discourage clients from disparaging/badmouthing the other parent directly to or in front of the child, as it is harmful for the child to hear negative comments about a parent he or she loves.  Unintentional comments, facial expressions, and body language (even without wrongful intent) can impact the child and damage his/her relationship with the other parent.  It should never be a competition between parents, as children have enough love for both parents. 

Children whose parents are not involved in a high-conflict situation and whose parents effectively co-parent grow up to be well-adjusted adults and have fewer mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems, as compared to children whose parents were involved in a high-conflict divorce.

In many cases involving parental alienating behavior, the court gets involved and has to make decisions on custody and parenting time and potentially on penalties for violating parenting schedules.  Ultimately, in cases where there is extreme parental alienating behavior that a parent refuses to stop, the court, although rare, can transfer custody. 

I have dealt with many divorce cases over the years that involved parental alienating behavior.  In many of these cases, the strained relationship between the child and parent was restored to a more normal parent/child relationship where the child would spend time with the parent on a regular basis. 

If you have a matter involving parental alienation and would like further information, please contact me for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or


William J. Rudnik, Esq. is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC.  He is certified by the NJ Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Law Attorney.  In addition to handling divorce litigation, he is qualified as a Mediator in the field of Family Law under the New Jersey Court rules, and he is trained in Collaborative Divorce. Contact Mr. Rudnik at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.