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The roots of parental alienation

When parents in North Carolina divorce, issues around parental alienation may complicate the situation. The roots of parental alienation lie in an unhealthy relationship reversal in which the parent turns to the child to have their emotional needs met. When divorce looms, the dysfunction is exacerbated.

Parental alienation involves one parent turning the child against the other parent. Because the child has been placed in a situation in which supporting the alienating parent emotionally is so critical, that child is also susceptible to this kind of manipulation. In the most extreme cases, alienating parents are able to persuade the child to believe their lies about the other parent. The child may refuse to live or visit with the other parent.

Unfortunately, divorce courts are often ill-equipped to deal with situations of parental alienation. They lack the understanding of the nuances of psychology and interpersonal issues in families and during divorce. Skilled mental health professionals with a background in parental alienation are not often appointed to work with children in these cases. Furthermore, courts also have the challenge of trying to distinguish parental alienation from cases in which children genuinely do not want to spend time with their parents because of such issues as abuse and neglect.

In situations where parental alienation is occurring or where one parent is concerned that the child is unsafe with the other parent because of abuse or neglect, litigation may be the only option for determining child custody. However, in other cases, parents might be able to reach an agreement on child custody and visitation using alternative dispute resolution methods, such as arbitration or mediation. These less adversarial approaches to resolving child custody issues may also leave parents in a better position to co-parent functionally in the years after the divorce.