Overcoming parental alienation

Research shows that more than 13% of divorced or separated parents feel alienated from one or more of their children due to the behavior or influence of their ex.1 Known as parental alienation, this phenomenon usually occurs in high-conflict situations such as contested divorces when one parent sours their child’s relationship with the other parent. Under Colorado law, parental alienation is considered contrary to the child’s best interests and is taken very seriously by the courts.

Why parental alienation happens

Divorce or separation can be a very traumatic event for children, especially if their parents are unable or unwilling to work toward an amicable resolution. When conflict exists, vulnerable young people can easily be manipulated by the very people they trust to love and nurture them and behave in ways that they cannot easily understand or explain. This can lead them to suffer from stress, guilt and anxiety, impacting their sleep patterns and daytime behaviors.

Parental alienation can be undertaken purposefully, such as by deliberately feeding the child misinformation about the other parent, or it can happen unconsciously, by acting in a hostile or dismissive manner that the child invariably copies in an attempt to preserve their parental bond with their primary caregiver.

Whether through a conscious decision or unintentionally, the end result is the same: the child rejects their other parent.

Why parental alienation is taken so seriously

The Colorado Revised Statute on Domestic Matters on the best interests of the child is designed to protect the child and their parents against parental alienation, believing that it is always best for children to be jointly raised by both of their parents within the bounds of a supportive co-parenting environment.2

Any infringement of this statute is believed to be contrary to the best interests of the child; in some cases, it can be considered a form of child abuse due to the significant stress and anxiety experienced by the child.

For this reason, a judge can modify co-parenting agreements or even order a case evaluation by a Child Family Investigator to determine the appropriate outcome to safeguard the emotional health of the child and their relationship with their parents.

Identifying parental alienation

Parental alienation usually starts slowly and may initially go unnoticed, or a child’s “bad” behavior may be explained away by their uncertainty about navigating the new status quo. In many cases, it is only when the behavior ramps up and the child begins saying or doing hurtful things to their alienated parent that the alienation becomes apparent.

It is important that divorcing or separating parents are mindful of this potential outcome and look for early warning indicators in their child’s or their ex’s behavior. Early indicators may include being unable to contact their child while in their ex’s care, being excluded from school or extracurricular activities, or the child behaving in an abnormally quiet or withdrawn manner.

If parental alienation is suspected, the target parent should seek help from professionals who can assist with child psychology and family dynamics, working with the whole family to understand why the behavior is occurring and restoring the relationship. Family therapy can benefit the whole family, helping them to learn to communicate in a healthy way and put in place appropriate conflict resolution strategies.

In some cases, legal intervention may be necessary to reduce or eradicate the influence of the alienating parent. This may involve revising custody arrangements or attending court-ordered therapy sessions. It is vital that any person who may inadvertently contribute to the alienation, such as grandparents or family friends, are aware of the harmful impact they are having on the child’s well being and understand that their actions could result in the withdrawal of the alienating parent’s visitation rights.

Useful strategies to prevent parental alienation

When a divorce or separation is handled amicably and outside of the earshot of the children involved, parental alienation is less likely to occur. Selecting a family law firm that will handle the case compassionately and professionally can aid in this process, helping both parties to reach a satisfactory outcome that safeguards their relationship with each other and their children while allowing them to move on with their lives.

It is vital that parents communicate openly and honestly, both with each other and with their children. They must acknowledge each other’s emotions and preferences, gently correct any misconceptions or inaccuracies, and continually reinforce the message that both parents love and care equally for their children.

It can be hard to deal with a child’s emotional fluctuations, particularly when navigating a stressful divorce or separation, but it is essential that parents are a stable and consistent presence in their children’s lives, listening to their concerns and guiding them patiently through their emotional turmoil. By demonstrating unconditional love and validating their feelings, they will emerge stronger and with parental bonds intact.

To lay the foundations for a successful co-parenting environment post-divorce or separation, contact the experienced team at Lewis & Matthews, P.C. today.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0190740916301335?via%3Dihub ↩︎
  2. https://casetext.com/statute/colorado-revised-statutes/title-14-domestic-matters/dissolution-of-marriage-parental-responsibilities/article-10-uniform-dissolution-of-marriage-act/section-14-10-124-best-interests-of-the-child ↩︎