Parental Alienation Awareness Organization
Founders of
Parental Alienation Awareness Day (April 25)

According to the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization, parental alienation involves the mental manipulation and/or bullying of the child to pick between their mother or father. These behaviors can also result in destroying a loving and warm relationship they once shared with a parent. Parental alienation deprives children of their right to be loved by and showing love for both of their parents and extended family. Parental Alienation can occur in intact families, but is mostly seen in separated and divorced families.

Parents/guardians using alienation tactics to hurt the other ‘target’ parent have been compared to cult leaders. They deny access to anything that may challenge their view of the other parent, including any photographs, or communication.

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a psychological condition most often observed in children affected by high conflict divorce and/or separation. It is one of the most damaging outcomes affecting children as a result of exposure to PA. The most common symptom of children affected by PAS is their severe opposition to contact with one parent and/or overt hatred toward such parent when there is little and often, no logical reason to explain the child’s behavior. The effects of PAS can last well into adulthood and may last for a lifetime with tragic consequences.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is different from Parental Alienation (PA). PAS refers to the behaviors of the child, whereas PA describes the abusive behaviors of a parent or caregiver. There are many debates as to whether PAS exists or is ‘Junk Science’.

During the crisis of divorce, most parents fear whether their children will emerge unscathed. Any reasonable and empathetic parent sincerely believes in the value of his or her children having a healthy relationship with both parents. Ideally, parents deliberately work on comforting and reassuring the children that no harm will come to them. At the same time, both try to strengthen their parent-child relationships without degrading the other parent or causing the children to feel divided loyalty. They encourage visits, talk kindly of the other parent in the children’s presence, and set aside their own negative feelings to avoid causing the children distress. They are sensitive to the children’s needs and encourage positive feelings toward the other parent. This outcome is the goal.

However, any number of events can destroy the fragile balance of peace between parents. If this happens, an injured parent may seek comfort by aligning with the children, especially since be or she may feel threatened by the children’s love for the other parent. A pattern of alienation usually begins without any malicious or conscious intent to harm or destroy the relationship between the other parent and the children. Though most parents mean well, they are often unaware of how subtle behaviors and comments can hurt the relationship between the children and the targeted parent. Alienating parents however learn how to manipulate and use their children to hurt the other parent on purpose, and with a vengeance. This can include anything from outright telling the children their other parent does not love them and does not want to be with them, to destroying and hiding communication from the other parent, to simply refusing to act as a ‘parent’ when a child does not want to spend time with, or is rude to, the other, and empowering their child to do as they wish.

Early signs of parental alienation include:

• Children perceive one parent as causing financial problems of the other parent;
• Children appear to have knowledge of details relating to the legal aspects of the divorce     or separation;
• Children show sudden negative change in their attitude toward a parent/guardian;
• Children appear uneasy around target parent – they resort to "one word" answers and fail to engage openly in conversations as they previously have done;
• Children are uncharacteristically rude and/or belligerent to target parent;
• Access time is not occurring as agreed upon or court ordered – visitation is being unilaterally cut back by the other parent;
• Parent undermines the other parent or speaks disparagingly about other parent in the presence of the children;
• Parent starts making reference to other parent as being abusive and a risk to the children with no apparent good reason;
• Allowing children to choose whether or not to visit a parent, even though the court has not empowered the parent or children to make that choice;
• Telling the children about why the marriage failed and giving them the details about the divorce or separation settlement;
• Refusing the other parent access to medical and school records or schedules of extracurricular activities;
• Blaming the other parent for not having enough money, changes in lifestyle, or other problems in the children’s presence;
• Rigid enforcement of the visitation schedule for no good reason other than getting back at the other parent;
• False allegations of sexual abuse, drug and alcohol use or other illegal activities by the other parent;
• Asks the children to choose one parent over the other;
• Reminding the children that the children have good reason to feel angry toward their other parent;
• Setting up temptations that interfere with visitation;
• Giving the children the impression that having a good time on a visit will hurt the parent;
• Asking the children about the other parent’s personal life;
• ‘Rescuing’ the children from the other parent when there is no danger.

Participating in parental alienation can be devastating from the perspective of custody litigation. If a judge finds that a parent is attempting to alienate a child, it may result in the alienating parent having custody completely taken away.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW for multiple years. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.