Parental Alienation: In Search of Common Ground For a More Differentiated Theory

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Family Court Review







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The concept of parental alienation (PA) has expanded in popular usage at the same time that it remains mired in controversy about its scientific integrity and its use as a legal strategy in response to an increasing range of issues in family court. In this paper we describe how competing advocacy movements (for mothers, fathers and children) in the family justice field have, over time, helped shape the shifting definitions and widening focal concerns of PA- from children who make false allegations of abuse, to those who resist or refuse contact with a parent, to parent relocation, and to the emotional abuse wrecked upon children who are victims of a manipulative parent. In search of common ground for a sound approach to using PA concepts, we argue that the Single Factor model of PA (asserting that an alienating preferred parent is primarily the source of the problem) is inadequate, overly simplistic and misleading. A Single Factor model rests on the fallacy that abuse or poor parenting on the part of either parent have been, or are able to be, ruled out as sufficient reason for the child's rejecting stance. By contrast, multi-factor models of PA make more useful, valid, differentiated clinical predictions of children's rejection of a parent, informed by basic and applied research on children and families. However, multi-factor models are complex and difficult to argue in court and to use in assessment and interventions. Suggestions are made for developing intervention-focused prediction models that reduce the number of factors involved and are applicable across different types of interventions.


Alienation, Estrangement, High-Conflict Divorce, Intimate Partner Violence, Parental Alienation, Parent–Child Contact Problems, Resistance-Refusal Dynamics


Justice Studies