Parental Alienation

Are You Experiencing Parental Alienation?

Divorce does not usually happen by mutual consent, which often creates challenges for children to see both parents.  Divorce can breed bad blood between parents and children when one partner uses their children to target the other parent.  It’s in the children’s best interests however, to be able to maintain regular and consistent contact with both parents in a conflict-free environment.

As Family Law Attorneys, we have encountered many mothers and fathers who have been intentionally denied contact with their children.  This is called parental alienation. The only time that contact between parent and child should be terminated is when there are convincing evidence for doing so and when there is no alternative. Contact can be terminated if it will be damaging to the child’s welfare and their best interests.

What is Parental Alienation?

The term ‘parental alienation’ can be described as the baseless rejection of the alienated parent by the child, whose alliance with the alienating parent is characterised by severe negativity towards the alienated parent. This occurs when the actions of the alienating parent (whether deliberate or unintentional), in an adverse way, affects the relationship between the child and the alienated parent. There are four principal constructs, with two based on alienation behaviours by the parent and two based on alienation by the child, namely:

  1. Exclusion of the non-resident parent based upon what’s been said by the resident parent (e.g. ‘bad-mouthing’ the non-resident parent);
  2. Exclusion of the non-resident parent by the resident parent (e.g. false accusation of abuse against the non-resident parent);
  3. Child’s rejection of the non-resident parent (e.g. the child has no respect for the non-resident parent); and
  4. Child’s idealisation of the resident parent (e.g. has only positive assertions about the resident parent).

What are the Forms of Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation can be classified by its severity from mild to severe.  There are various actions which cause different degrees of alienation. These actions include:

  • disrupting contact with the non-resident parent;
  • challenging the character of the other parent;
  • poisoning the mind of the children or brainwashing them;
  • deliberately turning a child against the other parent;
  • continuously criticizing the other parent;
  • preventing the children from having a healthy relationship with the other parent; and
  • creating false allegations of abuse, sexual molestation, and/or criminal behaviour.

What are the Characteristics of the Alienating Parent?

Dealing with an alienating parent is often very challenging as they have been generally characterised as being narcissistic or as having borderline personality disorder. Both are willing to lie in order to control their surroundings. Parental alienation seems more prevalent with the resident parent, whether it’s the mom or the dad. The only gender differences found in parental alienation is in the alienating techniques used.  Alienating moms, for example, are more likely to defame dads to the children while alienating dads are more likely to promote child defiance towards the mom.  Alienating parents have a lack of empathy for the child and an inability to separate the child’s needs from their own.  Alienating parents manipulate their children by giving them acceptance provided they receive unquestioned loyalty in return.

What are the Characteristics of the Parent being Alienated?

Alienated parents may be cautious of upsetting, angering or disciplining their children for fear of more rejection. Alienated parents are usually frustrated, anxious, stressed, angry and depressed.  Consequently, they may choose a passive stance or detach, which can fuel alienation as it reinforces negative messages to the child that the alienated parent never loved them or was a bad parent.

What are the Characteristics of the Child involved with the Alienation?

As mentioned above, parental alienation can be classified by its severity, from mild to severe.  The severity is characterised differently:

Mild parental alienation is marked by a child who is resistant to visiting with the alienated parent but enjoys spending time with the alienated parent once they are alone together.  A child with moderate parental alienation will strongly resist any contact with the alienated parent and maintains resentment and opposition during their time with the alienated parent. In cases of severe parental alienation, the child may not only strongly resist any contact with the alienated parent but may also run away or hide to avoid having to visit with the alienated parent.

Mild parental alienation is not too problematic. As parental alienation advances to moderate or severe, however, the damage caused to the parent-child relationship is more detrimental.

Both the gender and age seem to be important, with more likely involvement of girls than boys and older children than younger, as they have the cognitive and emotional ability to engage on this level.

What are your Rights Regarding Parental Alienation?

South Africa still has a long way to go when it comes to parental alienation and seeing it as a significant factor in court.  

We’ve seen that in court cases, alienated parents are exposed to false allegations of domestic violence against their ex-spouse or partner, false allegations of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect against their child. In Family Law proceedings in South Africa, the child’s best interests is paramount and is considered to be the most important factor taken into account and therefore allegations of abuse generally result in the instant pause of direct contact with the child whilst determining the facts in order to safeguard the child. The accused will then need to prove their innocence.

Section 7 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 specifically states: 

“Whenever a provision of this Act requires the best interests of the child standard to be applied, the following factors must be taken into consideration where relevant, namely- 

(d) the likely effect on the child of any change in the child’s circumstance, including the likely effect on the child of any separation from-

(i) both or either of the parents; or

(ii) any brother or sister or other child, or any other care-giver or person, with whom the child has been living; 

(f) the need for the child-

(i) to remain in the care of his or her parent, family and extended family; and

(ii) to maintain a connection with his or her family, extended family, culture or tradition;” 

Parental alienation is a direct violation of a child’s rights, as well as the rights of the alienated parent.


If you or your child have been the victim of parental alienation, we at Van Heerdens Attorneys can assist you in protecting your rights, as well as the rights of your child. If you have a matter which you would like to discuss, we would like to hear from you.  Please contact us via telephone or email.  Alternatively, please feel free to schedule an appointment on our website.

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