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Parental Alienation

One of the unfortunate aspects of family law in Washington State is sometimes a bitter, heated dispute between parents breaks out over the establishment or modification of a parenting plan. These custody battles amongst parents often claim their own children as casualties. One of the most frequent weapons used by loving, but misguided, parents involves engaging in Parental Alienation.

Dr. Richard A. Gardner, a forensic psychiatrist, wrote extensively about Parental Alienation Syndrome and outlines three factors: (1) Occurs in the context of a child custody dispute between parents, (2) Manifested by the child, who promotes his/her undue dislike of one parent, and (3) May be caused by the child’s motivations or intentions of the non-targeted parent.

Practically speaking, Parental Alienation is when a parent takes action that causes estrangement of the child from the other parent. For example, when a parent “brainwashes” the child into false, negative beliefs about the other parent, that can be considered Parental Alienation. A more extreme example could be the efforts of a parent to replace the other parent with a new significant other. This can be done either by reference or direct action, such as overtly changing the last name of the child to that of the new significant other, thereby forcing the child to go by that new name at school, in sports, etc. This is Parental Alienation and is harmful to the child.

In cases where children are being victimized by Parental Alienation, prompt action to protect the children from further harm should be taken. Often a good option is to have an independent, qualified third party investigate the children's situation. For example, in a pending case a parent can bring a motion for a Guardian ad Litem or Parenting Evaluator. These professionals can review Court filings, interview the parents, children and other relevant witnesses, as well as review other pertinent evidence to assist in generating a report and recommendations to serve the best interest of the child.

Parental Alienation can serve as a basis for limiting residential time in a parenting plan under Washington State law. Referred to "abusive use of conflict", the statute authorizes the imposition of limitations upon a parent who engages in such harmful behavior. Determining whether a parent's abusive use of conflict, rises to the level to justify limitations on that parent will depend heavily on the facts. In order to protect the children from the unnecessary infliction of harm by Parental Alienation, it is often essential to have an experienced family law attorney to seek limitations upon the offending parent.

Family law litigation can be emotionally difficult and complex. Decisions made about each step of the litigation can affect you for many years. We have years of experience helping our clients through the difficulty of family law matters, including parental alienation cases and can help you through the process. Contact us today at (253) 838 – 3377 or email at, to talk about your case.

Disclaimer: All materials provided on this website have been prepared by Bains Law Firm for general information purposes only and no representation is made as to their completeness or accuracy. Information on this website is not intended as legal advice, and may not be relied upon as such. Only an attorney who can review the unique facts of each case and apply them to the statutes, case law and court rules can provide legal advice. Nothing in this website shall be construed to create an attorney-client relationship.

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