divorceצילום: FREEPIK

The dissolution of the family unit entails a great emotional upheaval for the divorcing parties, an upheaval that does not spare the children.

At times, and especially during a divorce process, the anger and animosity between the parties is so huge that one of the parents attempts to hurt the other parent by turning the child against them. This phenomenon is known as “parental alienation” and it may be the source of irreversible emotional harm to the child.

Identifying parental alienation

Parental alienation is a situation where a child disassociates or severs contact with one of his/her parents, when the alienation is a result of the other parent’s instigation. This type of instigation may occur either actively or passively, when eventually it causes antagonism with the child towards the other parent.

This phenomenon is readily enforced during the divorce process, when parents’ animosity increases.

Parental alienation is usually characterized by a slandering campaign of the other parent’s name, the child’s preference to avoid contact with that parent, violent expressions, hostility, and anger towards that same parent.

On the other hand, parental alienation is also characterized by the opposite attitude toward the instigating parent, which may be expressed as sympathy, love and identification.

How to prevent parental alienation

Some steps may be required in order to prevent parental alienation during a divorce:

First, make sure that despite the divorce - the parents maintain ongoing relationship with the children.

Second, the parties should agree on a parenting plan that allows the parents cooperation in everything related to childcare. When a parenting plan is drafted and adhered to, the situation of parental alienation may be prevented in advance.

Additional step - When the parents feel that the tension during the divorce leads to behavioral changes in the child(ren) - the right thing to do is seek professional counseling and support and not neglect or assume that "it will work itself out."

What measures exist to prevent parental alienation during divorce?

In case the attempt to prevent parental alienation is not successful, the alienated parent may take some steps to handle parental alienation, including:

1. Submitting a court application to renew contact with the child – The court may refer the parents to parental coordination or to a welfare and legal order officer, to give their opinion regarding the relationship between the child and the alienated parent . The court may refer the parties to a psychologist to receive professional counseling and courses of action to help restore the relationship.

2. Filing a claim to reduce or cancel child support payments – should parental alienation lead to the child's severance of contact with the alienated parent, there is a possibility of filing a claim to reduce or cancel child support and alimony payments. It is important to note that in this matter severance of contact is not sufficient, but the alienated parent is required to prove that they did everything within their power to restore the relationship with the child, before they turned to the court in this matter.

The court will examine the options while fully focusing on the child’s best interests, and this principle will drive the decision-making process.

Sanctions for parental alienation

When an alienated parent manages to prove parental alienation towards them, the court is authorized to impose sanctions on the alienating parent, or order treatment measures as mentioned above.

Common sanctions include:

1. Financial sanction.

2. Payment of compensation

3. Reduction or cancellation of child support and alimony payments

4. In extreme cases, also to order the removal of the child from the custody of the alienating parent and passing it to the alienated parent or to another party.

Parental alienation infringes on the child's natural right to maintain contact with both parents, and thus may seriously harm the child. We should do everything to ensure the children are not harmed, despite the difficulties of divorce.

Handling the phenomenon in a decisive manner while involving all the relevant parties can save the alienated parent's relationship with the children as well as the children themselves from a prolonged severed connection, a deep emotional crisis and mental distress that may accompany them for many years to come.