Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation in Divorce, Custody, and Parenting Time Proceedings

Is your child suddenly rejecting you? Avoiding you? Are you losing the close connection you previously felt with your child? Is your ex-spouse encouraging your child to avoid a relationship with you? Parental Alienation is a common concern in divorce where custody of the parties’ children is being disputed. William Bernet, M.D., is one of the leading voices in describing Parental Alienation; the behaviors that create the situation and the effects that alienation has on children and their parents. He has defined Parental Alienation as occurring when a child whose parents are in the midst of, or have completed, a high-conflict divorce, begins to show a strong preference for one parent (the preferred parent) and rejects or refuses a relationship with the other parent (the alienated parent) without a legitimate reason to do so.

Dr. Bernet has developed a Five-Factor Model for the Diagnosis of Parental Alienation. This model is widely used in legal situations to diagnose and address Parental Alienation. At Van Den Heuvel Law Office our attorneys take Parental Alienation very seriously and use the framework of the Five-Factor Model and the weight associated with the model to advocate for a parent who is experiencing alienation. The Five-Factor Model is also an important tool for a parent experiencing Parental Alienation to help in understanding what may constitute actual alienation by their ex-spouse, the signs to watch for in their child’s behavior, and the things that their child may hearing or seeing in their time with the alienating parent that may cause the rejection that the alienated parent feels. Bernet’s Five Factors and a brief description of each are as follows:

  1. Campaign of Denigration
  • This factor involves a consistent pattern of criticism and derogatory remarks about the alienated parent by the child. The child may repeatedly express unjustified or exaggerated negative feelings and beliefs about the alienated parent, often echoing the sentiments of the alienating parent.
  • The child’s criticisms often lack substance and may seem rehearsed or exaggerated. These negative views are usually shared with others, including counselors, evaluators, and legal professionals.
  1. Weak, Frivolous, and Absurd Rationalizations for the Rejection
  • The child’s rejection of the alienated parent is based on weak, frivolous, or absurd reasons that are not proportional to the behavior or actions of the alienated parent.
  • The child’s reasoning for rejecting the parent does not justify the extreme reaction and often reflects irrational and unfounded accusations.
  1. Lack of Ambivalence
  • The child exhibits a lack of ambivalence about both parents, idealizing one parent (the favored parent) and demonizing the other (the alienated parent).
  • This factor is characterized by a black-and-white thinking pattern where the child sees one parent as entirely good and the other as entirely bad, without recognizing that both parents have strengths and weaknesses.
  1. The “Independent Thinker” Phenomenon
  • Despite the child’s claims of independently deciding to reject the alienated parent, it is evident that the child’s views and decisions are strongly influenced by the favored parent.
  • The child adamantly insists that their rejection of the alienated parent is solely their own decision, often failing to acknowledge the influence of the alienating parent’s behavior and attitudes.
  1. Absence of Guilt
  • The child shows no guilt or remorse about their treatment of the alienated parent. Their attitude towards the alienated parent is often hostile, dismissive, or indifferent.
  • This lack of guilt persists even in the face of the alienated parent’s genuine distress and attempts to reconcile the relationship.

The Five-Factor Model is a crucial tool in identifying and addressing parental alienation, helping professionals to differentiate between estrangement (a justified rejection of a parent due to abuse or neglect) and alienation (an unjustified rejection influenced by the other parent). This model is instrumental in guiding interventions and legal decisions to protect the best interests of the child. If you are experiencing any or all of these factors please reach out for help right away. The attorneys at Van Den Heuvel Law Office are very experienced in custody disputes during divorce proceedings and will work to resolve any signs of Parental Alienation as decisively as possible. Contact us here or call (616) 698-0000 to speak with one of our experienced team members.

For more information see: William Bernet (2020). “The Five-Factor Model for the Diagnosis of Parental Alienation” Feedback – the Journal of the Family Therapy Association of Ireland

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