What is Parental Alienation?

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Parental alienation is a psychological term, not a legal term. It covers instances where one parent engages in a focused campaign of psychological manipulation to actively turn a child against the other parent.

The motivations behind this are many. Sometimes it is used as a weapon during a custody dispute. Sometimes this action arises as a result of a parent’s anger. Cases can range from mild to severe.


Family Law


Alienation is distinguished from estrangement. In cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome the alienating parent might say things like, “Mom or Dad left because they doesn’t love us/love you.” The alienating parent may also disclose details of the divorce case to the child, in the hopes of making the child angry with the other parent.

Parental alienation can have severe psychological consequences for children when in fact, the child should be encouraged to have a relationship with both parents.

Estrangement is different. Estrangement is a result of the parent’s own actions. Usually the estranged parent does not make contact with the child a priority. Sometimes an estranged parent will accuse the other parent of alienation when the child expresses anger, even though the anger is a reasonable result of the estranged parent’s decisions to avoid taking advantage of parenting time or to avoid contact.

Legally, invoking parental alienation syndrome can have mixed results. In some cases it can actually hurt a parent’s bid to obtain custody of the child because it’s a difficult claim to prove. It’s easier to prove denial of parenting time.

If you think parental alienation is at play it’s best to document everything you can.

Document your attempts to have contact with your child. Bring this information to your Minnesota divorce lawyer. It could help you obtain child custody, or a modification of custody orders. The court may also order therapy for your child.

If you are seeking custody of your children or a modification of your parenting time orders, contact BGS. We’ve been family law attorneys serving the Minneapolis metro area for 75 years, and we’ll be happy to discuss the specifics of your case with you. Together, we can craft a strategy that protects your relationship with your child.

About Elizabeth A. Schading

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