What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) occurs when one parent routinely badmouths or disparages the other parent to the child to the point where the child begins to hold the same beliefs about their other parent. It is considered “brainwashing” because one parent talks badly about the other parent to their child to the point that the child begins to harbor the same beliefs. When this happens, the relationship between the parent and child can be permanently damaged and can have a long-term negative impact on the child, including their psychological development.
PAS is not currently recognized in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) and therefore is not recognized as a mental disorder. However, Illinois does acknowledge parental alienation syndrome. While there are no statutes in place that deal with PAS, you can advocate for children and parents who are suffering because of parental alienation with the help of a skilled attorney.
Is Parental Alienation Illegal?
Parental alienation syndrome is a growing concern paralleling the rise of divorce and children born out of wedlock over the past few decades. This relatively new phenomenon has spiked major disputes from both the legal and psychological communities as to how to identify and manage the condition.
Though Illinois does recognize the existence of parental alienation syndrome, there are not specific statutes in place to identify proof and what recourse to take. Even though the psychological community has not named parental alienation syndrome as a mental disorder, the long term psychological effects are apparent to anyone who has experienced the syndrome or is going through this type of experience. That is why lawmakers, family law attorneys, and judges alike find it necessary to advocate on the child’s behalf and make sure the appropriate steps are taken to abate the abuse in such instances.
Signs You Might Be Dealing with Parental Alienation
Divorce and separation are extremely difficult, especially when children are involved. It is important to remember that this process is just as emotionally difficult for children, if not more so. Even when parents do their best to shield their children from the divorce process, their parents' separation will ultimately have a significant impact on their lives. This may create a lot of negative emotions in the child, making them particularly susceptible to parental alienation.
Parental alienation is most common in high-conflict situations. It is also common in cases where a child or children tend to identify with one parent more strongly over the other.
Signs of parental alienation may include:
- The child unfairly criticizes the alienated parent
- The child has solely negative feelings for the alienated parent
- The child hates or mistreats the alienated parent
- The child supports the non-alienated parent unwaveringly
- Criticism and/or the child's negative opinion of the alienated parent has no basis or evidence to support it
- Negative feelings for the alienated parent may expand to other people associated with the alienated parent, such as stepparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.
It is important to remember that in cases of parental alienation, the child's negative feelings come from the other parent, not directly from the child. PAS is not the same thing as a child being angry with their parent or having complicated feelings about the parent. With parental alienation syndrome, the other parent is manipulating or influencing the child to think and feel a certain way, driving a wedge between the child and the alienated parent.
What to Do About Parental Alienation
If you believe you and your child are suffering from parental alienation, you should reach out to a trusted attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer will discuss your situation with you and help you determine your legal options and what your best course of action is. In some cases, returning to court may be necessary.
Resolving the issue and repairing the damage will vary depending on the nature of your situation. It may be as simple as having a judge order the other parent to stop speaking negatively about the child's alienated parent. Similarly, some families have found success in working with a family counselor or therapist. In more serious situations, revising custody and visitation orders may be necessary.