Family BondingCan a Parent Lose Custody for Parental Alienation?


Can a Parent Lose Custody for Parental Alienation?

A divorce or separation in a family is bad enough in and of itself, but often things can get really ugly when kids are involved. Family court cases can be rough on children, more so if both parents are parting ways on very bad terms. More often than not one parent will try to manipulate the child/children against their spouse.

In legal language, this is known as ‘alienation parental’ or parental alienation. Committing parental alienation is a serious offense in a custody battle, and often a good enough reason for a parent to lose custody of their child/children. If you or someone you know is going through a separation where children are involved, here’s everything you need to know about parental alienation.

What is Parental Alienation?

There is no specific definition of parental alienation, but as per general legal and social understanding, parental alienation is the act of manipulating a child against their other parent emotionally and via planned estrangement that doesn’t allow the other parent to communicate and bond with the child/children in question.

During a divorce, children can easily feel resentment toward one of their parents for the entire disaster which a manipulative spouse can use to turn them on their significant other. Some of the most common forms of parental alienation include

  • Badmouthing the other parent.
  • Preventing the child from communicating with the other parent.
  • Preventing the child from spending time with the other parent.
  • Refusing to cooperate in shared child custody activities.
  • Making a child feel guilty about spending time/behaving well with the other parent.

While none of this is desirable, the sad fact is many couples going through a divorce everyday resort to this tactic all over the world, which when unnoticed, irreparably damages the lives of the children and the wronged parent.

Signs of Parental Alienation

From an outsider’s perspective, the signs of parental alienation might not be obvious at first glance, which is why many relatives also unintentionally engage in the parental alienation process themselves. The signs of parental alienation can be explicitly split into two categories: signs demonstrated by the child, and signs demonstrated by the alienating parent.

Signs of Parental Alienation Demonstrated by Children

Signs of parental alienation demonstrated by children
  • The child/children show open or public disapproval toward their other parent.
  • The child/children committing hostile actions against the alienated parent and justifying it.
  • The child/children show a hostile attitude and language towards the alienated parent’s family members.
  • The child/children adopt the behavioral and speech patterns of the alienating parent.
  • The child/children showing no remorse towards their negative words/actions against the alienated parent.
  • The child/children adopt the personality traits of the alienating parent.

Signs of Parental Alienation Demonstrated by Alienating Parent

Signs of parental alienation demonstrated by alienating parent
  • The alienating parent speaks badly about the alienated parent in public and among family members.
  • The alienating parent denies access to information, documents, medical records, etc. to the alienated parent.
  • The alienating parent blatantly lies or misconstrues information in public and in court.
  • The alienating parent encourages the child/children to use the first name of their other parent instead of mom/dad.
  • The alienating parent discloses impertinent adult details of the separation from the child/children to influence their opinion of the other parent.
  • The alienating parent manipulates the child/children into thinking they’re unloved and unwanted by the alienated parent.
  • The alienating parent punishes the child/children for behaving well or having positive opinions about the alienated parent by physically and mentally abusing them.

It’s important to note that these signs of parental alienation can begin well before the divorce proceedings even begin. Many manipulative spouses plan for months or years before committing parental alienation, so watch out for these signs even if you or someone you know is married with kids.

Can a Parent Lose Custody for Parental Alienation?

The law doesn’t take kindly to parental alienation, and judges’ view on parental alienation is almost always negative. According to studies, around 10-15% of divorce cases in the US involve parental alienation. In most of these cases, it’s been observed that it’s usually the mother who badmouths the father. When a child custody battle goes to a court, the court considers the best interest of the child first and foremost.

If the judge finds out that one of the parents of a child is engaged in parental alienation, their opinion of the alienating parent can sour very quickly, giving an edge to the alienated parent. Luckily, proving parental alienation can be easy as long as you have the proper evidence, witnesses, and medical documentation.

When proper evidence or witnesses can’t be procured to prove parental alienation, usually a court-appointed psychologist has a couple of sessions with the child/children to determine whether they’re being victims of parental alienation or not. A psychologist’s evaluation in custody battles is critical as the courts take them very seriously.

Depending on the severity of parental alienation demonstrated in a custody case, a judge might outright give full custody of the child/children to the alienated parent or order a custody plan under a court or social services supervision. Furthermore, therapy sessions may also be assigned by the court to repair the damaged relationship between an alienated parent.

After all the efforts, if nothing works and the alienating parent keeps demonstrating toxic behavior toward their ex, then that parent will definitely lose custody of the child for parental alienation. US courts consider the following reasons as grounds for parental alienation if proven beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Manipulating/Brainwashing a child.
  • Interfering with the visitation rights of the other parent.
  • Making false allegations against the other parent.
  • Having a negative and disparaging attitude about the other parent in front of the child/children.
  • Undermining the authority of the other parent through actions or words.
  • Not adhering to shared custody schedules.
  • Blatantly ignoring court orders.

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Impact of Parental Alienation on Children

Most parents who engage in parental alienation often don’t take into consideration the long-term psychological effects on the children and the alienated parent. Children who go through this do so at such a vulnerable age that their negative notions about the alienated parent often stay for life or take a long while to shake off.

This can be a very sad situation where thanks to the anger and jealousy of one parent the positive bonding between the alienated parent and the child becomes almost unsalvageable and impacts the thoughts and actions of the child as an adult as well. Some of the most noticeable impacts of parental alienation on children include:

Impact of parental alienation on children
  • Suffering Emotional Distress: Since a child is being manipulated to go against their own emotions and opinions during parental alienation, it causes emotional distress for them which can manifest in many forms.
  • Lack of self-esteem: When a child is constantly berated and subtly manipulated to do something they don’t want (behave badly with their other parent in this case) it takes a hit on their self-esteem which can persist well into their adulthood.
  • Demonstrating behavioral issues: A child who is a victim of parental alienation will often demonstrate behavioral issues like being withdrawn, being scared and fearful, demonstrating bullying attitudes towards their peers, having problems acting normally in social situations, and more.
  • Falling Behind Academically: Due to the added emotional distress and all the previously mentioned factors, children who’re victims of parental alienation often fall behind in their grades. This can be mitigated to a certain extent if the child is studious by nature, but these instances are very rare.
  • Inability to form any kind of long-term relationship: The constant gaslighting and manipulation a child victim of parental alienation has to go through damages their ability to foster healthy adult relationships. They find it difficult to trust others and inhibit negative traits from their toxic parents which prevents them from finding a suitable romantic partner as well.

Legal Actions to Take When Faced with Parental Alienation

Legal actions to take when faced with parental alienation

Parental alienation situations are no joke and can have a significant impact on custody battles. As mentioned already, it has a significant bearing on child custody and can also impact the visitation rights of the alienating parent.

So if you suspect that you’re being a victim of parental alienation as a parent, these are the legal actions you should take to start protecting yourself and your child from a vicious ex who wants your life to go down in the dumps:

  • Filing a Motion for Contempt: Filing a motion for contempt is simple if the other parent is already demonstrating signs of disobeying the court order. This will shorten the time the alienating parent will get to poison the mind of the child.
  • Filing a Motion to Modify Custody Orders: As before, you can also file a motion to appeal to the court to modify the custody orders if you suspect your former spouse committing parental alienation even after receiving the custody papers

Keeping Track of Parental Alienation

While parental alienation rears its ugly head during a divorce, the process can begin way before that. Many unhealthy marriages use the children as a symbolic rope for a tug of war in which the children have no place. Even if you’re not planning a divorce, keeping an eye out for telltale signs of parental alienation and gathering information and evidence early on help you get an edge during legal proceedings.

  • Keeping a Journal/Diary Tracking Important Events: Parental alienation doesn’t happen overnight and there will be signs that your child is being alienated from you through subtle actions such as spending less time with you, not communicating with you as regularly as before, not calling you in or informing you about important events in school such as school meetings, cultural events, sports events, etc. When you start noticing these signs start journaling them with proper dates and the relevant people involved in the situations.
  • Collecting Evidence for Court Proceedings: In today’s day and age of the internet and instant communications texts, voice messages, and social media posts all count as evidence. Keep records of them and take screenshots when necessary so that the alienating parent can’t simply delete them and deny the facts later on.
  • Hiring a PI: Hiring a PI (private investigator) might sound a bit far-fetched, but they’re really good at finding and uncovering important information. If you have a busy schedule or don’t know where to start, a PI can be a great help during situations like these.


1. How long does it take for an alienating parent to lose custody of their child due to parental alienation?

It depends on the court proceedings and the evidence presented. In some cases, the custody battle can be won within months, but sometimes it can drag on for years.

2. Can you lose custody for bad-mouthing the other parent?

Yes, you can! Since it is up to the judge to decide, your actions will be scrutinized, especially if you are bad-mouthing the other parent.

3. Is parental alienation a crime?

Technically it’s not a crime, but it’s looked down upon by both society and the justice system and has a serious impact in a custody battle.

4. How to avoid parental alienation?

The best way to prevent parental alienation is to have healthy communication with all members of your family and have a mature and understanding relationship with your wife.

Final Thoughts

Parental alienation is a very serious issue at present given the staggering divorce rates not only in the US but all across the globe. It’s a very contemptible practice that not only ruins the family bonding of an already broken family but causes immense suffering for both the alienated parent and the child/children involved.

If you’re in the middle of a divorce and fighting for the custody of your children, don’t engage in parental alienation if you know what’s good for you. And if you’re the victim, you already know what steps to take to ensure a better future for you and your child/children.

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Tyler S. Rios, a parent of two, shares her valuable insights into family life. Her blogs focus on parent-child relationships and navigating family conflicts. Tyler's wealth of experience empowers readers to handle family challenges with resilience and resolution.

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