By Peggie Ward,
Ph.D. & J. Campbell Harvey, J.D.
The Alienation of Children Composite case from
Custody Newsletter, Issue #9, 1993
The parents of Amy (age 10) and Kevin (age 7) are divorcing after 13 years of marriage.
Their father, by temporary stipulation, has moved from the marital home. He is
entitled to visit the children on alternating weekends and one evening during the
week. Soon, the children refuse to go with him.
At first, they do not want to leave Mom; they say they are afraid to
go. When Dad comes to the house, Mom tells him that she will "not force the
children to go." "Visitation is up to them," and she will "not
interfere in their decision." The children refuse to talk with him on the
phone. Mom calls him names when he phones and complains constantly about her
financial situation, blaming him, all within hearing of the children.
Dad attempts to talk with the children about the situation, then to bribe them with
movies, shopping trips, toys. They become sullen with him and resistant to
coming. Anything, routine doctor visits or invitations from a friend, serve as
excuses to avoid visits. When asked, the children say "Dad is mean to us.
"When asked to give specific examples, their stories are not convincing.
"He yells too loud when we make noise." "He made me climb all the way
to the top of a mountain." "He gets mad at me about my
homework." They say he has never hit them, but are afraid he will.
These children are in the process of becoming alienated from their father.
Parental alienation is the creation of a singular relationship between a child and one
parent, to the exclusion of the other parent. The fully alienated child is a child
who does not wish to have any contact whatsoever with one parent and who expresses only
negative feelings for that parent and only positive feelings for the other parent.
This child has lost the range of feelings for both parents that is normal for a
We will call the parent who acts to create such a singular relationship between the
child and himself the "alienating parent."
The parent who is excluded from the singular relationship is "the target
parent." We note that alienation can occur both ways, each parent attempting to
alienate the child from the other.
II. Harm to the Child
The persistent quality of the conflict combined with its enduring nature seriously
endangers the mental health of the parents and the psychological development of the
children. Under the guise of fighting for the child, the parents may succeed in
inflicting severe emotional suffering on the very person whose protection and well-being
is the presumed rationale for the battle." (emphasis added)
It is psychologically harmful to children to be deprived of a healthy relationship with
one parent. "Visitation agreements must insure that the emotional bond of the
child with both parents is protected. There is substantial research that indicates
that children need contact with adults of both sexes for balanced development."
With the exception of abuse, there is no good reason why a child should not want to
spend some time with each of her parents, and, even with abuse, most children still want
to maintain some relationship with the abusive parent. It is the job of the parents,
the professionals and the courts to see that such contact is possible under safe
While alienating messages and behavior affect a child negatively and impact upon the
child's growth and development, the impact on the child may not vary with the parent's
intentions. The effect will be to place the child in a severe loyalty bind, a
position wherein the child believes she must choose which of her two parents she will
"love" more. To have to choose between parents is itself damaging to the
child, and, if the end result is the exclusion of a parent from the child's life, the
injury is irreparable.
There is a continuum of alienating parental behaviors which cause harm to children, and
all positions on this continuum need be of concern to the professionals and the
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