Written by attorney Anneshia Miller Grant

Parental Alienation in Divorces and Separations

In many divorces, the most contentious disputes arise over child custody ( and child visitation. These issues are often close to the heart and fights can erupt that no amount of counseling, advice, and negotiation can settle. While most parents want the best for their children, during a divorce ( parents may lose sight of harmful behavior that they display in an effort to "win" custody of a child, or to scorn the other parent for his or her role in the divorce proceedings. A vicious and destructive pattern of behavior can arise from the combination of heavy emotions, serious frustrations, and control. This pattern of behavior is called parental alienation syndrome, and it should be stopped as soon as it is detected.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation ( is a behavior of one parent that involves manipulating and bullying the child so that he or she ultimately "picks sides" with that parent over the other parent. It is a set of behaviors that are both harmful and damaging to a child, and can eventually destroy the child’s bond with the parent that the alienating parent is targeting. Parental alienation is often used as a tactic by the alienating parent during a divorce or separation in order to harm the other parent and turn the child against the other parent. Parental alienation can include these behaviors by the alienating parent:

  • Telling the child that the other parent does not love the child;
  • Telling the child that the other parent does not want to spend time with the child;
  • Hiding communication from the other parent from the child (i.e. letters, telephone calls, etc.);
  • Acting hostile towards the child if the child does not want to spend time with the alienating parent; and
  • Empowering the children to act as they please.

What can a Court do about Parental Alienation?

According to a lead parental alienation expert (, there are many things that courts have the power to do when it comes to parental alienation during a divorce or separation. Courts are in the best position to stop parental alienation when determining the issues of custody, child support ( and visitation matters. Courts can prevent one parent from using procedural tactics to promote delay and further alienation, for example denying continuances in high-risk parental alienation cases. Courts can also order children and parents in therapy, and can appoint a Guardian Ad Litem ( to oversee the child and report to the court.

In the Virginia case Canedo v. Canedo (, the Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled that a mother who was using gross tactics—including manipulating the child into believing that her father had sexually abused her-- to alienate the child from the child’s father was to have supervised visitations with the mother. This is one example of how the courts can intervene in serious cases of parental alienation.

Parental alienation is a serious issue that can damage a child emotionally and mentally, and can break the bond between a child and the targeted parent. If you are seeking to get a divorce in Virginia, you should immediately get in touch with an experienced family law and divorce attorney. Contact Garrett Law Group, PLC, ( today for a confidential consultation.

Additional resources provided by the author

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Avvo child custody email series

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer