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The Psychology of Parental Alienation

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Morris County NJ Parental Alienation Attorneys

The Psychology of Parental Alienation Morris County NJ

One of the most complex issues that can arise during or after a divorce, or as part of a multi-household family, is that of parental alienation. Since New Jersey family courts are of the opinion that children should be given the best possible opportunities to build strong relationships with both of their parents, any time a parent is found to be purposely (or unknowingly) alienating their children from the other parent, the consequences for the alienating parent can be serious in terms of child custody and visitation rights.

Considering the seriousness of parental alienation and its prevalence in family law and child custody disputes, our Morris County family law firm and Senior Associate Allison Heaney Lamson have done extensive research into the psychology of parental alienation and the parental alienation syndrome in an effort to provide the most informed legal counsel possible when dealing with any question of parental alienation.

In today’s article, we will discuss the differences between parental alienation and the oft-misunderstood “parental alienation syndrome,” some of the most current research and opinions in the psychology and mental health community regarding how and why these occur and their affects, and briefly discuss how our attorneys can help you regarding your child custody or parental alienation matter.

Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome Attorneys Madison NJ

As mentioned above, the terms “parental alienation” and “parental alienation syndrome” are commonly used interchangeably (and incorrectly) by attorneys, judges and parents alike. However, the former refers specifically to when a parent is being alienated from their children, while the latter refers instead to the very real ways in which a child’s psychology can be affected and changed by an alienating parent.

Since we have already discussed parental alienation in a previous blog at length, we will instead focus now on the issue of parental alienation syndrome. While this “syndrome” has yet to be included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Disorders), the “handbook of healthcare professionals” used for the diagnosis of mental disorders, neither have several other very real disorders, for example postpartum depression. This is in part due to the difficult nature to study such a disorder (no researcher wants to purposely alienate a child from their parent just to perform an experiment), in part due to the fact that many feel children of a difficult divorce should not be “labeled” as having a disorder, and in part due to legal ramifications and potential for abuse.

Causes of Parental Alienation Syndrome

With all that being said, what is important to understand about parental alienation syndrome is it is a very real phenomenon. Children in particular are highly susceptible to suggestion, and American cognitive psychologist and human memory expert Elizabeth Loftus has shown that false memories can be given to children with relative ease, particularly from relatives or trusted family members. Specifically, children in her studies were told by relatives that they had been lost in a mall several years earlier. The closer the relative, the more convinced the child was the event had actually happened, and many of the children even went so far as to continue to elaborate on these events as if “recalling” what had happened.

What this study in particular shows is that given enough motivation (as is often the case in a contentious divorce or child custody battle), parents can easily convince their children of events that never occurred, and ultimately turn the child against their other parent. So while parental alienation can occur without the alienating parent realizing what they are doing, a parent who is actively lying about their co-parent is performing a deliberate and conscious act, thereby making parental alienation syndrome a much more serious issue.

Cognitive Dissonance and Parental Alienation Lawyers Randolph NJ

Finally, many believe  parental alienation can occur due to “cognitive dissonance,” basically what happens when we as human beings find ourselves in conflict between our behavior, and our emotions or thinking. A very common example of this is a smoker trying to justify to themselves continuing to smoke. They know smoking is bad for them, but reconcile this knowledge and their behavior by thinking things like “its not as bad as they say it is,” or “I like smoking anyway”.

This idea of cognitive dissonance ties very heavily into family law when a child of divorced parents visits with one parent, but spends the entire time missing their other parent. Then they change homes, but instead of feeling happy, again feel like they miss their other parent, and would somehow be betraying them by enjoying themselves. While some children will adapt to this loyalty conflict by keeping themselves as far removed as possible, other children resolve this inner conflict by simply just picking a side.

As you can see, the inner conflict that any divorce or family law dispute can cause in children is often cause enough for parental alienation.

Contact Our Morristown Parental Alienation Lawyers Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys have extensive experience helping parents to fairly and effectively resolve family law, divorce, child custody, and parental alienation disputes across New Jersey and Morris County towns.

Our firm’s unique approach to family law centers around finding creative solutions to our clients’ needs in ways which protect the emotional and financial stability of the entire family. By focusing first on negotiation and mediation, we feel we can help our clients to build family life plans out of family law problems.

To speak with a member of our legal team today in a strategic planning session regarding your parental alienation or other family law matter, and to learn exactly how our dedicated and knowledgeable attorneys can help you, please contact us online, or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 710-4366.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.