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Understanding Parental Alienation in Pennsylvania

Published: Dec 13, 2018 in Divorce, Family Court, Separation
parental alienation

Written by Anthony Piccirilli

Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC, has handled many child custody cases in Pennsylvania involving parental alienation. Now, there is a movement afoot in Pennsylvania spearheaded by the National Parents Organization (formerly Families and Fathers) to pass two bills addressing the “horrific parental alienation crisis.”

House Bill 443 would give “additional temporary custody time” to parents who lost time with their children through the other parent’s violation of a custody order; and House Bill 1349 would create a default 50/50 percent custody award in contentious cases, unless it can be proven that one parent is “harmful” to the child.

Both pieces of legislation are currently pending in the House.

If you are dealing with a situation involving parental alienation, contact us today. For a free, confidential consultation, please don’t hesitate to call Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC or use our online contact form.

What Is “Parental Alienation Syndrome”?

According to Psychology Today, “parental alienation involves the ‘programming’ of a child by one parent…to undermine and interfere with the child’s relationship with [the other] parent.” It encourages the child to choose one parent over another, often brainwashing the child into actively rejecting the “targeted” parent at the behest of the “favored” parent. The targeted parent will be seen as “bad” or “evil” by the child because of the emotional manipulation of the favored parent.

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) was first coined by psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985. He noted that its increase was tied directly to the increasing number of child custody battles in the United States. One family court study in 2010 found that 11 to 15 percent of custody cases in the United States involved parental alienation. As we grow to understand more about this phenomenon, we have no doubt that percentage will increase.

How Parental Alienation Takes Root

According to developmental psychologist and PAS expert Amy Baker, there are 17 primary strategies used by the favored parent to alienate the targeted parent. They fall into five major categories:

  1. Giving poisonous messages to the child about the targeted parent. The targeted parent is portrayed as unloving, unsafe, and unavailable;
  2. Limiting contact and communication between the child and the targeted parent, as well as with the targeted parent’s family members or friends;
  3. Erasing and replacing the targeted parent in the heart and mind of the child; often by refusing to discuss the parent or to allow the child to have pictures of the parent;
  4. Encouraging the child to betray the targeted parent’s trust, such as by spying on the other parent and giving the information to the favored parent; and
  5. Undermining the authority of the targeted parent; for example, telling the child that they don’t have to obey when they’re with the other parent.

It should be noted that the non-custodial parent is most likely to suffer from parental alienation. Pennsylvania has both legal custody and physical custody for a child. Most often, legal custody for important decision-making is shared between the parents by default. Primary physical custody—where a child spends more time living and sleeping—is usually held by one parent over the other. Given this situation, the custodial parent has more opportunity to poison the child’s mind against the other parent.

If one parent is refusing to allow the other parent visitation or defying a court order for shared parenting time, we recommend getting custody enforcement involved right away.

Why Parental Alienation Matters

In Pennsylvania, a family court judge will take a child’s living preferences seriously, depending on the child’s age and maturity. If a child is encouraged to hate or belittle a targeted parent, the child will almost certainly pass those prejudices on in court. Any damage done to the parent/child relationship may take years to fix, and may never be healed completely.

There are several behaviors that an alienated child will generally exhibit:

  • They will “campaign” against the targeted parent to other people
  • They will come up with weak or silly reasons to reject the targeted parent
  • They will view one parent as all good and the other as all bad
  • They will justify the poor treatment of the targeted parent
  • They will automatically support the favored parent in everything
  • They will dislike the friends and family supporting the targeted parent

Alienation is now seen as a form of child abuse, and should never be allowed. Children who are emotionally manipulated by one parent and isolated from the other are more prone to depression, trust issues, and destructive behavior later in life. This is not acceptable, and the types of parents who would alienate their child from another loving parent are often unfit parents themselves.

Call Us for Help With Your Child Custody Case

At Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC , we see small examples of parental alienation every day, and fight against it. Our clients’ children are our top priority, and everything we do is in the best interests of the children and their healthy relationships with loving parents. Get help now by contacting a Pittsburgh family lawyer or calling (412) 471-5100 for a free, confidential consultation.