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since June 19, 2001



Family Wars (PAS) — Moderate Alienation


The alienating parent has some awareness of her emotional motivations (fear of loss, rage) and little sense of the value of the target parent.  Sometimes, an alienating parent will understand the theoretical importance of the other parent in the life of her child, but believes that in her case, the other parent, due to character deficiencies, cannot be important to the child.  Their statements and behaviors are subtle but damaging to the child. 

1. Communications of dislike of visitation:

    "You can visit with your Dad, but you know how I feel about it." 

    "How can you go to see your father when you know...I've been sick; Aunt B is here..." 

    "Visitation with your Dad is really up to you."

2. Refusal to hear anything about the other parent (especially if it is good):

    "That's between you and your father (regarding reports of visitation; plans for visitation)." 

    I don't want to hear about... (what you did with your father) (especially if it was fun).

3. Delights in hearing negative news about the other parent;

4. Refusal to speak directly with the other parent:

    When the target parent calls, gives the phone to the child, "It's him," in a disgusted tone of voice. 

    Hangs up phone on the target parent. 

    Silently hands the phone to the child when its the target parent calling.

5. Refusal to allow the target parent physically near:

    Target parent not allowed out of the car or even on the property, in the driveway, for pick-up and drop-off visitations.

6. Doing and undoing statements: Negative comments about the other parent made and then denied: 

    "There are things I could tell you about your Dad, but I'm not that kind of person." 
    "Your Dad is an alcoholic; oh, I shouldn't have said that."

7. Subtle accusations:

    "Your Dad wasn't around a lot when you were little." 

    "Your Dad abandoned me."

8. Destruction of memorabilia of the target person.

    At this stage alienation continues to occur more frequently during transitional times, but is present in other circumstances.  With moderate forms of alienation, all three divorce impasse systems are involved.  The alienating parent is facing an internal conflict; the alienating parent is interacting with the spouse in a manner designed to produce conflict; and the external forces, such as therapists, attorneys and the court, are involved in the polarization, at least to some degree.


When the alienation is overt, the motivation to alienate (the intense hatred of the other) is blatant.  The alienating parent is obsessed and sees the target as noxious to himself or herself, the children, and even the world.  A history of the marriage is related which reflects nothing but the bad times.  The target parent was never worthwhile as a spouse or a parent and is not worthwhile today.  Such a parent shows little response to logic, and little ability to confront reality. 

Many alienating parents at this stage entertain the overt belief that the target parent presents an actual danger of harm to the children.  They present this belief as concrete knowledge that if the children spend time with the target parent they will be irreparably harmed in some manner or that they will be brainwashed by the target parent not to value/love the alienating parent. 

1. Statements about the target parent are delusional or false:

    "Your Mom doesn't pay support" when there is evidence to show payment. 

    "Your father doesn't love us" (or "you") when there is no evidence to that effect. 

    "Your mother drinks too much," "uses drugs," "smokes," etc. when there is no evidence to support these statements. 

    "Your father went out and got the meanest lawyer in town."

2. Inclusion of the children as victims of the target parent's bad behavior:

    "Your Mom abandoned us". 

    "Your Dad doesn't love us (or you) anymore."

3. Overt criticism of the target parent:

    "Your Mom is a drug addict/alcoholic/violent person." 

    "What's wrong with your Dad; he never/always does." 

    "Your mother endangers your health." 

    "Your father doesn't take good care of you/doesn't feed you/take you to the doctor/understand you during visits."

4. The children are required to keep secrets from the target parent:

    "Don't tell your Mom where you've been/ who you've seen/ where you are going/ etc."

5. Threat of withdrawal of love:

    "I won't love you if you... (see your Dad, etc.)" 

    "I'm the only one who really loves you."

6. Extreme lack of courtesy to the target parent.

    At this stage of alienation, conscious motivation is always present, and the internal, interactional and external systems are fully engaged in supporting the alienation process.


By the severe stage, the alienating parent no longer needs to be active.  In terms of the motivation, the alienating parent holds no value at all for the other parent (whether motivated by fears, emptiness, helplessness) and the hatred and disdain are completely overt.  The alienating parent will do anything to keep the children away from the target parent. 

At this stage the child is so enmeshed with the alienating parent that he or she agrees totally that the target parent is a villain and the scum of the earth.  The child takes on the alienating parent's desires, emotions and hatreds and verbalizes them to all as his own.  The child too sees the history of the target parent and family as all negative and is able toneither remember nor express any positive feeling for the target parent. 

These, and overt cases of the previous paragraph, are the ones that as an attorney invade your private life and lead to emotional over-involvement, although any high conflict alienation case beginning in the moderate category can do so. 

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