Today I am going to highlight the difference between alienation and estrangement. This is a very hot topic in Toronto!
There are many reasons that a child may reject a parent after separation or divorce. My son has chosen not to have a relationship with his father for the past few years because of the way that his dad behaved during his parenting time. The ex would disparage me in our son’s presence and expose him to the litigation and conflict. My son is estranged, not alienated, from his father.
Estrangement refers to a child’s rejection of one parent that one would consider justified. This is actually considered normal behaviour because the child is simply erecting a boundary to prevent unwanted behaviour from his/her parent. A child will become estranged to keep him/herself safe from behaviour that violates their boundaries. This may include disparaging behaviour, exposure to conflict, violence, and abusive language.
Alienation refers to a child’s rejection of a parent that is not justified. This is a diagnosable mental condition found in the DSM. Typically, this pathological behaviour is driven by a false or illogical belief fostered by an Alienating parent. The Alienator uses the child as a weapon by undermining their intact relationship with the healthy parent. Alienation occurs when one parent manipulates a child to reject the other parent, out of hatred, fear, or disrespect.
Your child is estranged but you are being accused of alienation
The most common scenario I see in my high-conflict divorce coaching practice is exactly what I experienced in my own high-conflict divorce battle. If you are reading my blog, I will bet you are experiencing exactly this:
Your child is becoming estranged from your ex because your ex is behaving badly. Then your ex’s lawyer hurls accusations of alienation at you. Sound familiar?
This scenario comes from the playbook on high-conflict divorce land I think that courts are becoming hip to it. Defeating false claims of alienation requires meticulous record-keeping and hyper-vigilant communication with the ex.