Few topics in the realm of separated parents in conflict create more debate and controversy than the topic of parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome.
Parental alienation (PA) is taken to mean the behaviour of one parent that can undermine or negatively influence the relationship of the children to the other parent. This is differentiated from Parental alienation syndrome (PAS), which refers to the impact of a parent’s alienating behaviour on the child, and the child’s behaviour as the result of that impact.
Given the above definitions, a parent may engage in behaviour that could potentially affect the child’s relationship with the other parent, but where the child remains unaffected. So, PA may occur, but not PAS.
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PA is also differentiated from restrictive gatekeeping. In other words, a parent may reasonably or even unreasonably limit or restrict the other parent’s time with the child, but is still not seeking to undermine the relationship between that other parent and child.
Given that emotions typically run high at the point of separation, it is not uncommon for one or both parents to speak poorly to the children about the other parent, or at least be in a situation where the children overhear such talk. It is also not uncommon for there to be differences of opinions as to how the children’s time should be shared between the parents, and how decisions affecting the child shall be shared.
Parents are cautioned about what information they share, or expose their children to, and how they interpret such behaviour by the other parent. These behaviours at this time are not typically viewed as parental alienation as much as part of the expected emotional process and upheaval in the initial stages of separation.
In terms of the spectrum of alienating behaviour, like any behaviour, it can range from little to much. Indeed, the same behaviour can be applied with low intensity to high intensity, and from low frequency to high frequency.
While many parents believe that they can assess the spectrum, complexity and effect of PA on their own, this is a far more complicated area of practice than many realize. If this is a concern, it is suggested that parents speak with a professional mental health practitioner with expertise in this area to determine and discuss management strategies. Many family law lawyers are familiar with such experts to help in this determination.