When there is a divorce with children, the ideal situation is that both parents have a positive relationship with the children. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and an unhealthy, pathological situation occurs where the child rejects a parent. A rejection that is guiltless, unambiguous, definite, and without vindication can point to the phenomenon known as “parental alienation.”
One of the leading experts in parental alienation, Dr. Bernet, provides the most widely used and accepted definition, that it is a: “mental condition in which a child – usually one whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict separation or divorce – allies himself or herself strongly with an alienating parent and rejects a relationship with the ‘target’ parent without legitimate justification.”
Identifying Parental Alienation: The Five-Factor Model
The Five-Factor Model (FFM), which is used to diagnose parental alienation by understanding and identifying the components of this condition, includes the following criteria:
- Factor One: the child manifests contact resistance or refusal, i.e., avoids a relationship with one of the parents.
- Factor Two: the presence of a prior positive relationship between the child and the now rejected parent.
- Factor Three: the absence of abuse, neglect, or seriously deficient parenting on the part of the now rejected parent.
- Factor Four: the use of multiple alienating behaviors on the part of the favored parent.
- Factor Five: the child exhibits many of the eight behavioral manifestations of alienation.
The current version of the FFM is based on The High-Conflict Custody Battle: Protect Yourself and Your Kids from a Toxic Divorce, False Accusations, and Parental Alienation (New Harbinger Publications, 2014) by Dr. Amy J. L. Baker, Dr. J. Michael Bone, and Brian Ludmer.
17 Alienating Strategies to Determine Whether Alienation is Happening
Mental health professionals often use the 17 alienating strategies, as defined by Dr. Baker, when determining whether alienation is present. These strategies include badmouthing or limiting contact with the target parent, confiding in the child, asking the child to spy on the target parent, referring to the target parent by their first name, withholding important information from the target parent, and undermining the authority of the target parent. It is important to note that not all 17 of these alienating strategies need to be present for alienation to occur.
Manipulating a child to turn against the other parent is a major problem that should be addressed as soon as possible. Family lawyers should be able to help their clients recognize when alienation is occurring, and then take the necessary steps to deal with it immediately. Parental alienation can take a significant amount of time to undo, so it is crucial to be cognizant of when and how it might be taking place. Seeking experienced guidance is critical to prevent the damage it can do and seek a workable outcome for everyone involved – especially the child.
Parental Alienation: 7 Ways to Help a Polarized Child
How family law professionals can help alienated children make and maintain healthy relationships with both parents.