through raising awareness.


Baker, A. (2010). “Adult recall of parental alienation in a community sample: Prevalence and associations with psychological maltreatment.” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 51, 16-35.

Bernet, W. et al (2010). “Parental alienation and the DSM V.” American Journal of Family Therapy, 38, 76-187.

Fidler, B. and Bala, N. (2010). “Children resisting postseparation contact with a parent: Concepts, controversies, and conundrums.” Family Court Review, 48 (1), 10-47.

Kruk, E. (2011). Divorced Fathers: Children’s Needs and Parental Responsibilities, Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.

Bala, N., Hunt, S., & McCarney, C. (2010). Parental alienation: Canadian court cases 1989-
2008. Family Court Review, 48 (1), 164-179

Parental Alienation 101

Basic definition

Parental Alienation occurs when a child is manipulated by one parent to irrationally and unjustifiably reject the other parent, usually in the context of a divorce.


Parental Alienation occurs in 11-15% of divorces involving children. (Fidler and Bala, 2010)  It is estimated that about 1% of children in North America are victims of Parental Alienation.  (Bernet et al, 2010)  Allowing for differences in rates of sole custody, fathers and mothers are guilty of Parental Alienation in nearly equal numbers (Bala, Hunt, and McCarney, 2010)

Common behaviors of the alienating parent

1.  One of the most common behaviors is badmouthing.  Bashing and badmouthing the targeted parent in front of the child devalues the targeted parent.  It undermines the child’s respect for that parent.

2.  Alienating parents also seek to undermine the targeted parent's reputation to the rest of the world by making false allegations against him/her and by telling half-truths about past events.  The alienating parent will reach out with their false stories to friends and family members, therapists and teachers, even child services and law enforcement.  This has been referred to as the “distortion campaign."

3.  Alienating parents may use various maneuvers to limit the targeted parent's time with the child.  They may simply deny visitation, or they may make other plans for the child that conflict with the targeted parent's schedule, or they might intrude on the parent's time with an excessive number of phone calls. 

4.  The alienating parent may attempt to erase the targeted parent from the child's life by removing pictures, forbidding any mention of the parent, or by throwing away gifts or letters that arrive in the mail.  If the alienating parent has a new spouse, they may even have the child refer to the new spouse as "Mom" or "Dad" and have the child refer to the biological parent by their first name.

5.  Other forms of psychological manipulation may be employed, such as punishing the child or withdrawing love from the child should they express affection for the targeted parent.  This is often done in a subtle way--a facial expression or an off-hand remark.  Or the alienating parent may outright tell the child that the other parent does not love them.  Loving gestures from the targeted parent may be dismissed.  "He's just trying to buy your love," or, "She just wants to look good for the judge." 

6.  The alienating parent may use fear tactics, e.g. "Your dad is trying to take you away from me.  If he has his way, you will never see me again."  At the same time, the alienating parent may foster an unhealthy level of dependency in the child by having the child sleep in the same bed for their "protection," or by repeatedly calling the child during the targeted parent's parenting time to make sure the child is okay.

Common behaviors of the alienated child

1.  The rejection of the targeted parent by the alienated child goes beyond simple disinterest.  It is a persistent and activecampaign against the targeted parent.  With very little prompting, the child will eagerly express her feelings of disdain.

2.  When challenged as to why the child feels so strongly, she will give trivial, even absurd rationalizations

3.  The child is unwavering in her opinions, denying any positive past experiences, and lacking any guilt over her exploitation of the rejected parent.

4.  The alienated child will be very quick to defend her opinions as her own.  She will adamantly deny being influenced by anyone else, especially the favored parent.  This is known as the “independent-thinker phenomenon.”

5.  In her campaign against the targeted parent, the child will frequently use the exact same words and phrases as the alienating parent.

6.  The unjustified hatred often includes the targeted parent's entire extended family.

These are just a few of the outward manifestations of the Parental Alienation dynamic. For an introduction to the underlying psychology, please go to the next section.