Warning Signs of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is defined as the programming of a child by one parent, consciously or unconsciously, to damage or destroy the child’s relationship with the other parent. It is most commonly found in high-conflict divorces and often directed at the non-custodial parent, but this is certainly not always the case. Sometimes the custodial parent is the target, and sometimes it even happens in intact families.


The manipulating parent may have difficulty separating from the pain of the divorce and focusing on the needs of the child, or the parent may have a personality disorder like narcissism. We recently wrote a post about divorcing a narcissist that may be helpful in recognizing this personality.


Even good parents can carry a lot of anger and sometimes allow negative comments about the other parent to slip out, but most good parents recognize that children will grow best if they maintain healthy relationships with both parents. It generally takes a very bad situation or a parent with a personality disorder to trigger alienating efforts.

However, parental alienation in some form is common: a 2010 study found it present in 11-15% of divorce cases. Here are some warning signs for a targeted parent to watch for:


  • Alienating parent badmouths the targeted parent in front of the child
  • Custodial parent blocks court-ordered visitation with various excuses
  • Child knows details of the divorce
  • Child expresses that the divorce is the targeted parent’s fault
  • Child asks targeted parent not to attend events like sports games or parent-teacher night
  • Child becomes much more belligerent, defiant, or combative
  • Child is derogatory toward targeted parent’s gifts or efforts, expressing a preference for the alienating parent’s gifts or efforts
  • Child repeats alienating parent’s opinions as if they are now his or her own
  • Child takes responsibility for the alienated feelings, as if it was his or her idea

Parental alienation is growing in recognition, and efforts are being made to address it in court. Some argue that it is a form of child abuse, as the child is being emotionally manipulated and fed false beliefs. Various psychological consequences are being recognized in children who have been victims of manipulation, so it’s important to address this issue early.


If you think you may be dealing with a situation of alienation, please reach out to us. We can help you evaluate the situation, document your evidence, and take important corrective steps.