What Is Parental Alienation?

Because of the stressful nature of separation and divorce, it is not uncommon for this stress to manifest in ways including parental alienation. In family law, parental alienation is a highly controversial concept. 

The simple definition of parental alienation is as follows: 

“Parental alienation is a term that is used to describe the behaviour of one parent, who acts to undermine, and damage the relationship between the other parent and the child.”

The parent who acts this way is known as the “alienating” parent the child. This term is commonly used in high-conflict custody and parenting disputes. It is interesting to explore how parental alienation is dealt with in family law. 

Where Did This Concept Come From?

What Is Parental Alienation?

The concept of parental alienation is tied with Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) – first introduced in the United States by a child psychiatrist in the 1980s.

The psychiatrist, Richard Gardner, wanted to focus his study on the “alienated parent”, i.e. the parent against whom the alienating parent makes allegations, so as to distance the child from that parent. 

According to his findings, he stated that in majority of families which were involved custody litigations, the child had Parental Alienation Syndrome, but there was no substantial evidence to support his arguments about the syndrome. 

In his work, he applied the theory of PAS mainly to allegations of sexual or physical abuse made against the alienated parent. 

How does the alienating parent attempt to eradicate the relationship between the child and the other parent?

The alienating parent can use a combination of tactics, including: –

  • Emotional manipulation 
  • Programming 
  • Brainwashing 

By using such strategies, the alienating parent can successfully sabotage the relationship between the other parent and the child. However, this often leads to long-term, even life-long psychological trauma for both the child, and the alienated parent. 

Methods Used by Alienating Parent To Damage Relationship Between Child And Alienated Parent

Now that we have briefly explored the questions of what parental alienation is, let’s highlight some of the ways in parental alienation can occur.

Under Australian family law, over the years, lawyers have witnessed different ways by which one parent facilitates parental alienation. 

This includes: 


  • One parent sharing extra, often unnecessary details of the separation and divorce with the child.
  • The alienating parent trying their best to make the child ‘unavailable’ to the other parent. 
  • Heavily criticising, insulting and belittling the other parent in front of the child;
  • Suggesting that the child has been abused by the other parent – even in the absence of any solid evidence to support the allegation 
  • Using the child to share information about the other parent, and make the child act as a spy
  • Monitoring phone calls, and all other forms of communication between the parent and the child

How Do Courts Deal with Parental Alienation?

Although the answer to what is parental alienation is straightforward, the concept remains ambiguous. Importantly, although the courts deal with extreme family law cases which involve parental alienation, the first and foremost approach in dealing with such issues is through mediation or collaborative law. 

Once these methods have been tried, if the dispute has still not been resolved, and if one parent continues to alienate the other parent, the alienated parent can take the issue to court.

Ultimately, the way each parental alienation case is assessed differs based on the unique circumstances and details of the case. 


Since you have an idea about what is parental alienation, if you find yourself in the situation where you are experiencing alienation, you should consider dispute resolution as a primary step. 

If this primary step does not work, it is important to seek legal assistance from experienced lawyers. Because of how complex this case is, and because of its delicate nature (if not address properly, it can lead to long-term trauma for you and the child), it is important to gain efficient legal guidance to resolve this issue. 

Author’s info: 

John Bui is the Principal Solicitor of JB Solicitors – a law firm based in Sydney, Australia. John has extensive knowledge in the areas of family law and commercial litigation.  

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