Parental Alienation Syndrome

Understanding Parental Alienation Syndrome: Evaluation, Signs, and Legal Implications

It was in 1985 when the American psychiatrist Richard Gardner introduced the Parental Alienation Syndrome (also called SAP ). Since then, numerous social, scientific, and legal controversies have revolved around him.

One of the debates is based on the fact that Parental Alienation Syndrome is not included in the current reference mental disorder classification systems

In the USA, within the legal sphere, the laws do not contemplate Parental Alienation Syndrome in any of their articles. That is, it cannot be reported as a crime or used as a legal basis.

However, the Provincial Courts, in their divorce rulings and modification of measures, do apply the phenomenon of Parental Alienation Syndrome with the objective of prioritizing the Best Interest of the Minor. This is done with the help of forensic psychologists.

Therefore, and despite all the controversies surrounding Parental Alienation Syndrome, conducting an expert psychological evaluation is crucial in judicial processes related to this phenomenon.

This evaluation must be developed regardless of ideologies, political thought, or influence of social groups, since, by definition, it must exclusively address technical-scientific criteria.

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

The rejection by the minor of parent-child interaction, that is, with one of their parents, is known as Parental Alienation Syndrome . This phenomenon usually occurs when the minor is immersed in the process of breaking up with her parents.

It should be noted that the origin of the aforementioned rejection must be in behaviors and attitudes on the part of the parent “accepted by the minor”. The objective of this alienating parent is to subject the child to a marked polarization.

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Therefore, the weakening of the rejected parent-child relationship is unjustified. This is because there is no previous history in parent-child relationships that allows us to understand the distancing and rejection of the minor towards said parent.

In summary, in Parental Alienation Syndrome, a parent tries to model or program their child so that they reject the other parent.

The phenomenon of Parental Alienation Syndrome appears above all in intra-family processes with high post-breakup conflict. Therefore, intervention by the judicial system is necessary.

It is contemplated in the jurisdictional order of Family Law and is a casuistry collected within the forensic psychological evaluation. The procedures in which Parental Alienation Syndrome most often appears as an object of study are the evaluations of the most suitable care and custody regime or the processes of modification of measures 

How to evaluate Parental Alienation Syndrome?

When carrying out an expert psychological evaluation, the main criterion that the expert must take into account in order to assess the existence of a SAP is the behaviors of rejection of parent-child interaction expressed by the minor towards one of his parents.

Generally, the rejected or excluded parent is usually the one with whom they do not live, but there may be exceptions. It is very important to detect this rejection and not the hindering behaviors and attitudes on the part of the alienating parent, since the minor does not always submit to these parental strategies.

To technically speak of the phenomenon of Parental Alienation Syndrome, a causal relationship must be established. That is a direct connection between the rejection expressed by the minor towards the parent-child interaction with one of her parents and the behaviors and attitudes of the other parent (the alienator) in said rejection. Establishing this causal relationship is necessary and sufficient to explain the magnitude of this phenomenon.

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It is important that during the evaluation the existence of real abuse by the rejected parent is ruled out. This would mean a justified context for rejection by the minor, which would make the determination of Parental Alienation Syndrome incompatible.

What are the signs of Parental Alienation Syndrome?

As we have mentioned previously, the rejection expressed by the minor has its origin in different behaviors that the alienating parent manifests in his presence.

Some of these behaviors or attitudes are:

  • Belittling the other parent through negative comments, insults, and adjectives that ridicule and affect their image.
  • Instill lies in the child about the other parent.
  • Imposing difficulties in the relationship between the minor and the other parent. That is, preventing communication, visits, or even coexistence.
  • Do not involve the other parent in important decisions related to the education or health of the minor. This causes the child to develop without the reference of one of her parents.
  • Reinforce attitudes of rejection on the part of the minor towards the other parent.
  • Include your own family environment and friends in the offenses towards the other parent.

As a consequence of these behaviors, the minor frivolously and repeatedly rejects and criticizes the other parent. The criticisms turn out to be unjustified, dramatic, or exaggerated. Likewise, the minor speaks of the rejected parent in derogatory terms without expressing feelings of guilt or shame for it.

It is interesting how, frequently, the speech and lexicon that the minor uses is similar to that used by the alienating parent, with whom he or she expresses affinity and union in any situation. Often this rejection extends to the family or environment of the same parent.

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In this way, the minor suffers continuous emotional abuse that pressures him to think, feel, and act according to the wishes of his parent (the alienator). Added to this is the unjustified denial of the right to have the support and affection of one of his parents and, therefore, of the other half of his family.

Conclusions about Parental Alienation Syndrome

Independently of the debates surrounding Parental Alienation Syndrome, it is evident that it is a problem that causes serious functional impairment at behavioral, emotional, and cognitive levels. Therefore, since the superior legal good lies in the Superior Interest of the Minor, the evaluation of this phenomenon is of great importance.

For this reason, the psychologist expert, in his role of assisting the Court and issuing a means of evidence, the expert psychological report, must know what is described under the entity of Parental Alienation Syndrome.

This is crucial to prepare the opinion that will serve the Judicial Body as a guide to making the most appropriate decision.


1.What is parental alienation law USA?

While not accepted in all U.S. states, parental alienation refers to behaviors that undermine a child’s relationship with one parent by another parent through manipulation, brainwashing, or restricting access.

2.Is parental alienation recognized?

Parental alienation is recognized in some form by about half of U.S. state court systems and U.S. state laws, though it remains a controversial concept disputed by some organizations.

3.How do I prove parental alienation in court in Texas?

To prove parental alienation in a Texas court, provide evidence like records of denied visitation, therapist testimony, disproportionate hostility displayed towards one parent over the other, and refusal of the child reconciliation attempts.

4. Is parental alienation a disputed concept?

Yes, parental alienation remains disputed particularly when based only on a child’s stated preferences rather than evidence of alienating behaviors, with concerns it can discount legitimate reasons a child avoids one parent.

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