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The Impact Of Parental Alienation On Child Custody Disputes

  • By: Larry Lefkowitz
  • Published: March 28, 2016



Few would disagree that one of the most challenging and emotionally difficult situations that can arise during a divorce is a high conflict child custody dispute. Although the most effective approach for parents in a divorce involving children is to constructively work out a mutually acceptable parenting plan, sometimes the other parent refuses to cooperate or uses tactics that make the process exceedingly difficult to complete. While it can certainly be challenging to maintain civility with an angry and resentful spouse during a divorce proceeding, the refusal to negotiate an amicable schedule for parenting time and various other important aspects of a custody case typically has a broad range of serious consequences for all parties involved. This includes, without limitation, stress on both parents, protracted custody proceedings, and a negative emotional impact on the couple’s children. It can also lead to so-called “parental alienation syndrome,” which is among the most damaging scenarios for minor children and can irreparably damage a relationship between a child and his or her parent.

If you are facing a similar situation, I want to help. As the founder of the Law Offices of Larry H. Lefkowitz, I am dedicated to helping my clients at all stages of their divorce and beyond. I offer a flat rate, and only charge you for the services you need. Contact me at (215) 750-9202 today to learn more about your legal rights and options.

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

“Parental alienation syndrome,” coined by renowned psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner in the early 1980s, refers to a disorder where a parent who spends dramatically more time with a child knowingly and/or intentionally disparages, complains about, or insults the other parent and/or engages in other forms of hostile conduct most often designed to harm the child(ren)’s relationship with the other parent. Parental alienation can also arise even when a parent is unaware that their negative words and actions are having a negative effect on a child. In either case, the actual disorder of “parental alienation” manifests when the child or children begin to vilify the other parent or openly do not want to spend time with him or her as a result of the alienating parent’s words and behavior.

Although this disorder has not been recognized by the psychological community in the form of inclusion in the DSM4 Manual, the term and condition is widely used both formally and informally in child custody disputes in the family courts of Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. Although the lack of a formal acknowledgement of this disorder means that the definition may vary in each jurisdiction, the easiest way to understand the term is by way of example. Disparaging or negative commentary about the other parent in the presence of the couple’s child(ren) are the most common form of alienating conduct, which can include the following:

  • Mom repeatedly telling a child: “Your dad doesn’t love us/you anymore.”
  • Dad tells the child when mom is ill: “Your mom said doesn’t want to see you tonight.”
  • Either parent telling their child: “You are not safe with [mom/dad].”
  • Either parent stating to a child: “Your father/mother is a [fill in the blank]”
  • One parent openly blaming the other for the breakdown of the marriage, their financial problems, etc.
  • One parent openly discussing negative details about the couple’s marriage, including the other spouse’s alleged fidelity (whether true or false), etc.

Along with these sorts of statements and actions, a parent engages in alienating acts when he/she intentionally interferes with the other parent’s time with the children or otherwise engages in acts that create emotional distance between the other parent and the children. A common tactic in this regard involves one parent coaching a child to make false allegations of physical or sexual abuse against the other parent. In light of the foregoing, any of the above scenarios is extremely damaging to a child, who is unjustly thrown into the middle of a divorce case, potentially causing him or her to suffer from severe anxiety, emotional trauma, resentment and anger. Overall, it is important for divorcing parents to know that a divorce action is only between two parents – not the parent(s) and the couple’s child(ren). When parents respect these boundaries, it makes for a much more civil and expeditious divorce case and for less of an emotional burden on your children, who naturally are affected by their parents’ decision to part ways.


The degree of parental alienation can range from mild to severe, and as such, the ways in which a lawyer can help a client who has been the victim of parental alienation can vary. For instance, depending on the circumstances of one’s case, a lawyer has the option of filing a motion for contempt in a Pennsylvania court ordering the other parent to immediately stop the alienating behavior. Moreover, a lawyer can also seek a court order to have a child psychologically examined and treated for the disorder, especially if the effects on the child are moderate to severe. Lastly, when the circumstances warrant, a lawyer can also seek a modification of the couple’s current custody and visitation schedule to offset any damage and protect you and your child(ren)’s best interests. For more detailed information about the legal options potentially available in your case, it is critical that you contact an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney for help. Parental alienation is nothing short of abusive, and you shouldn’t have to face this situation alone. Call Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney Larry Lefkowitz now to learn more about your legal rights and options.


If you are contemplating a divorce or are facing any type of family law related matter in Pennsylvania, contact me immediately. I offer a flat rate to simplify the billing process, and provide all my clients with fairness, compassion and respect. In essence, why worry about a mounting legal bill when you have more important things to be concerned about? Call me, attorney Larry Lefkowitz today, at (215) 750-9202 to learn more about how I can make a difference for you and your family.

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Larry Lefkowitz

About the Author Larry Lefkowitz is a Family Law and General Practice attorney who specializes
in assisting his clients with experienced legal advice and services for a flat fee.
Flat Rate Fees+Better Relationships=No Surprises.