If you have experienced alienation from your child, do not lose hope. Parental reunification programs can help rebuild your relationship and create a happy future for you and your child.
What is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is a strategy used by the alienating parent to consistently barrage a child with negative opinions about the alienated parent to purposefully damage the parent-child relationship. It is commonly seen in a high-conflict divorce.
The alienating parent may make up things about the alienated parent, exaggerate things, or spin things in a negative light to prejudice the child against the alienated parent. This could include false claims of abuse, incorrect interpretations of occurrences, denial of facts, and completely fabricated events. The child absorbs these messages and internalizes them and then comes to believe that they resent, hate, fear, dislike, or want nothing to do with the alienated parent because they have been manipulated to internalize this viewpoint.
The child may also come to wrongly believe they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused. The alienating parent also does everything in their power to keep the child away from the alienated parent, canceling or interrupting scheduled parenting time and withholding the child as much as possible. They may also withhold affection from the child or punish them if they express positive emotions about the alienated parent or express a desire to see them. The ultimate goal is for the child to completely reject the alienated parent and refuse to see them or spend time with them, which results in the alienating parent obtaining full custody of the child.
Research has identified eight key signs of parental alienation:
- The child engages in a campaign of denigration (criticism) against the alienated parent.
- The child does so without any real evidence or examples for the criticism or uses faulty reasoning.
- The child does not have mixed feelings about the alienated parent. They present only negative feelings.
- The child believes and states that all of their opinions and criticisms are their own conclusions based on their own experiences and thinking.
- The child completely supports the alienating parent.
- The child feels no guilt about the way their treat the alienated parent.
- The child uses adult words and phrases when explaining situations that never happened or which have been misconstrued.
- The child hates not only the alienated parent but that parent’s entire family.
What Is the Effect of Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is the emotional abuse of a child. The strategy manipulates the child and uses them as a pawn in the alienating parent’s game with the goal of hurting the alienated parent. The child experiences the loss of the alienated parent and is not allowed to grieve or adequately process it. This is damaging and can impact their emotional health moving forward. Both the alienated parent and child are deprived of a relationship with each other, and false beliefs have been inserted into their relationship, which can be very challenging to overcome. Both may experience post-traumatic stress. The alienation can cause permanent damage to the child and to the alienated parent.
Are There Legal Strategies to Combat Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is a form of child abuse, and any parent who engages in it could lose their custodial rights. It is considered to be in the best interest of a child to have relationships with both parents. However, if a parent manipulates the child to create negative feelings about the other parent and withholds or prevents contact between the child and the other parent, this can be grounds for a change in custody. It’s important to note that even if the court does change the custody order, this may not change how the child feels. It is crucial to obtain professional mental health assistance to help the child adjust to the new custody order.
What Are Parental Alienation Reunification Programs?
Parental alienation reunification programs are therapeutic programs that seek to undo the programming that happened to the child and rebuild a healthy relationship between the child and the alienated parent. The goal of the program is NOT to remove the child from the alienating parent, but to create a family that incorporates both parents having ongoing relationships with the child unless a court has ordered permanent no contact with the alienating parent.
Program goals include:
- Removing the child from conflict between the parents
- Allowing the child to have healthy relationships with both parents
- Fostering critical thinking and autonomy in the child
How Do Parental Alienation Reunification Programs Work?
Programs work to retool the relationship between the child and both parents. As an alienated parent, you likely feel that it is your child’s mindset that needs to be changed through the program, but it is important to realize that in your child’s mind, you are a person who has rejected, abandoned, or hurt them.
Although you have been placed in this position due to the other parent’s behavior, the program will help you:
- Offer unconditional love
- Be patient
- Provide compassion
- Remain emotionally available
- Respect the child’s connection to the other parent
The program also helps to gradually impact the child’s mindset and beliefs about the alienated parent so that they can return to having positive emotions about them.
Programs include intensive regular therapy with parents and children. Some programs offer intensive four-day in-depth programs set at a neutral location to get a lot of work done quickly. Programs may require that the alienating parent have a period of no contact with the child to allow the therapy to operate without their influence and may request that the alienated parent obtain a court order of no contact to ensure this. All programs require a long-term commitment and ongoing therapy since it can take years to counterbalance the programming the child has experienced and help them find their way forward.
Choosing a Program
Before you do anything, talk with your attorney to review your legal situation and custody rights. You may need a court order to be able to take your child to a reunification program, or you may need an order to compel the other parent to send your child if they refuse or an order for the other parent to participate in therapy.
Once you have determined that a reunification program is the best path forward, get several recommendations from your attorney. If your child has a current therapist, consult with them. If you have your own therapist, seek their input as well.
You should evaluate programs by considering:
- Experience. There is no credentialing in parental reunification, so seek out a program with therapists with years of experience in this particular area of mental health and specific training in pathological enmeshment and alignment. Therapists should have advanced mental health degrees and be published in the parental alienation field.
- Location. Evaluated whether it is a convenient location and if the accommodations are private and up to your standards.
- Activities. Many programs include extras like equine therapy, culinary classes, hiking, and adventure programs.
- Privacy. Public figures may wish to ensure that they are treated privately and not in the presence of other families. Ask to see their privacy policies.
- Cost. Your attorney may be able to get the court to order the alienating parent to pay for the cost of the treatment, but costs should be reasonable.