Parental Alienation and Its Importance in Texas Child Custody Disputes

Parental alienation syndrome is a serious condition in children caused by extreme parental behavior.

You may have heard about the concept of parental alienation in the news lately. In September 2017, a group of concerned people held the Million Person March in Washington, D.C., in part to raise awareness of the phenomenon. Closer to home here in Texas, you might recall the media frenzy throughout 2017 over the Travis County divorce proceedings of controversial media personality Alex Jones and his ex-wife Kelly Jones. In that case, the wife has alleged very publicly that her ex-husband has used parental alienation tactics to turn her kids against her.

So what is parental alienation?

Parental alienation syndrome or PAS is a concept first articulated by psychiatrist Richard Gardner in which one parent without justification psychologically manipulates a child to reject the other parent. The behavior is akin to brainwashing and involves severe indoctrination of the child, according to an article in Psychology Today.

In response, the child may refuse to see the other parent or make excuses not to have contact, begin to associate with the targeted parent the negative qualities promoted by the manipulative parent, or express fear or hate toward the targeted parent.

Mental health professionals consider the actions of the indoctrinating parent to be a form of child abuse. Unless a parent poses a real risk of harm to a child, it is generally accepted that having a healthy relationship with both parents is in the child’s best interest.

What does alienation look like?

Examples of alienating behavior include:

  • Verbal criticism and denigration of the targeted parent or that parent’s relatives
  • Threats to withhold affection from the child if the child wants to see the other parent
  • Failure to facilitate or allow contact with the other parent or that parent’s extended family members
  • Removal from the household of evidence of the other parent such as pictures or correspondence
  • Creation of an image of the other parent as being evil or dangerous

The alienating behavior can cause serious mental health problems for the child, who may experience depression, addiction, mistrust of others, problems with self-esteem, guilt, trauma, and feelings of rejection. The Psychology Today article cites one study in which half of the subjects who had been the victims of parental alienation themselves as children ended up being “alienated from their own children” later in life.

Children who are victimized by PAS should receive comprehensive therapy and treatment from a mental health professional with parental alienation knowledge and experience.

From a legal standpoint

Accusations of PAS may arise in child custody proceedings in divorce and separation, modification of custody arrangements, and parental relocations. It also can interfere with court-ordered parental access or visitation schedule, requiring enforcement proceedings.

Swift and strong legal action may need to be taken in these cases and it is important to seek legal guidance from an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The child’s best interests and mental health are the top priority. Unraveling the truth can be complicated and must be carefully orchestrated.

Family lawyer Michael Tracton of the Tracton Law Firm, PLLC, in Sugar Land represents parents in southeast Texas in divorce, child custody, and other family law matters in which allegations of parental alienation are involved.