Parental Alienation, Divorce and Child Custody Battles, Part 2

In part one of this two-part blog series, we went over a term commonly found in the world of divorce and child custody: Parental alienation.  Referring to circumstances where one parent or the other in a divorce situation attempts to punish or get back at the other through undermining their relationship with a child or children, parental alienation is something that the courts recognize as negative parenting behavior and seek to discourage, and even punish.

At the law offices of JD Milliner & Associates, PC, our child custody attorneys and divorce lawyers are experienced in dealing with parental alienation, and are here to assist clients who feel they are being subjected to it.  In today’s part two, we’ll go over a few additional examples of the types of parental alienation that might take place, plus some tips on proving parental alienation as part of a divorce or custody case.


In part one, we went over disparagement and undermining the authority of the other parent, two forms of parental alienation that are fairly common.  Another type of alienation is known as parentification – essentially, this includes behaviors that allow/encourage the child to make decisions that he or she is clearly not old enough, or that are otherwise inappropriate for the child, to make.

Sadly, the most common form of parentification is telling a child that s/he can decide whether to spend parent-time (aka visitation) with their other parent who does not have custody over them. But other forms may include letting kids make their own decisions about doing homework, setting their own diet or determining their own bedtime.  Parentification is a sub-category of undermining authority, one that attempts to cast the parent doing it as the more loving parent while making the other parent out to be the bad guy.

Parental Substitution

Another form of parental alienation is parental substitution, where the words or behaviors of one parent intentionally lead the child to believe that someone other than his/her parents, such as a step-parent has similar authority as her/his parents, or that the child should treat this new adult as his/her “new” father/mother.  This insidious form of alienation is most common when one parent enters into a relationship with someone new – in such cases it must be made clear to the child that this new adult in their life is not their “new” mother or father, and that this new adult does not have parental authority over them.

Now, it’s important to note that in cases of step-parent adoption, where a biological parent actually has his or her parental rights terminated and the child is legally adopted by her/his step-parent, and in cases of child abandonment (complete or partial) by one or both parents, parental substitution is not an issue, at least not to the same extent.  In cases of step-parent adoption, the adopting step-parent actually assumes parental rights and responsibilities and becomes “Mom” or “Dad,” while the biological parent whose parental rights are terminated probably should simply fade into the sunset.  In cases of child abandonment, it is actually healthy, especially for younger children, to bond with (or “attach” to) a responsible third-party adult who can assume the role of an additional parent.  Under modern “Attachment Theory,” children, especially small children, need at least one responsible adult to whom they can “attach” in a parent-child-type relationship to help them avoid the psycho-emotional problems that frequently develop among orphans and other children who are simply passed from one primary care provider to another.

Proof of Parental Alienation

Those looking to prove parental alienation within a divorce/custody case should try to demonstrate a pattern, not just a single instance, of parental alienation behavior.  If possible, statements from third-party witnesses, and any kind of documentation of the pattern, will go a long way.  In essence, you need to be able to convince a judge that it’s necessary to change the other parent’s conduct to protect the child from long-term harm.  In very clear cases, a showing of parental alienation may actually result in a change of custody away from the alienating parent.

For more on parental alienation within divorce cases, or to learn about any of our family law, business law, or trust, estate and probate law services, call 801-505-5600 to speak one of the lawyers at JD Milliner & Associates, PC today.

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