Home » Parental Alienation Syndrome – Part 1:

Jul 16, 2020

Parental Alienation Syndrome – Part 1:

Blog, Children and Divorce, Divorce and Children

Divorce is never easy – even with couples who wish to part ways amicably. Having children makes divorce much harder. While the couple deals with the real-life issues of separating a marital estate, they also have to continue to work and maintain a lifestyle for the children. Unfortunately, children can end up being the collateral damage in the divorce. Children may be affected for years after the divorce. Unfortunately the parents are often to blame for this unnecessary suffering.

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) was first named by a child psychologist, Richard Gardner, in 1985. It is not recognized as a mental health condition, nor is it officially recognized by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization, but the mental health effects are real (Heitler, 2018).

Types of Alienation Behaviors: Overt, passive-aggressive and subtle

Parental alienation occurs in many ways. All damage the child.

Overt: Hostile and aggressive

Overt parental alienation behaviors are the most obvious, although some might just believe the other parent is being a jerk. An example of is when one parent disparages the other parent in front of the children, such as “Your mother is a piece of shit”. Sometimes the children themselves criticizes the other parent over and over again and without justification. I have had parents tell me that they hear their other spouse through their children – such as, “Your just like your father”. These are just some examples of obvious alienation tactics, but there are others that are more dangerous.

Passive-aggressive – creating confusion and anxiety

There are those passive-aggressive parents who some will argue have narcissistic personality traits. One very common example occurs when there is a switch-off between custody of the children. The receiving parent might be “sweet” or “fake” to try to impress the children (which by the way, the children see right through this as they get older). Sometimes the parent might give the children the silent treatment or withhold snacks or treats if the children mention the other parent in a positive way, or if they are preparing for a visit with the other parent and show excitement.

Subtle – and lethal

Finally, there are subtle alienation tactics. These are difficult to prove and are usually done by people who are master manipulators (narcissistic or not). A parent might sign up a child for a summer camp that just happens to fall on days that interfere with the other parent’s custodial time. I have witnessed cases where the parent has selected phone call times with the other parent for the children at the worst possible times thus making the call with the other parent unproductive and sometimes impossible to occur.

This is a short summary of some of the behaviors that will alienate the other parent from the children. Regardless of the behavior it is extremely traumatic and damaging to the children. Usually the alienated parent does not have the financial means to fight these games in court. And will face a difficult time trying to prove that the other parent is indeed trying to alienate the children. Part 2 of this blog will discuss the actual damage to the children and the long-term effects on both the children and the alienated parent.

Christine Lombardo-Zaun, Esquire, attorney-mediator at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation. For more information about Christine, Christine Lombardo-Zaun, Esq. for her profile.

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About the author

Christine Lombardo-Zaun, Esquire

Christine brings extensive experience and expertise to the Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation. Her credentials include operating her own practice in Allentown since 2011 while also working with the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas as a Divorce Review officer and court-appointed attorney since 2011. She earned her Doctor of Jurisprudence from The Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University in 2010 and also holds an MBA from Penn State as well as a BSBA in Business Administration and a BA in Speech Communication from Shippensburg University.