The Role of Parental Alienation in False Allegations of Child Abuse

When marriages end acrimoniously, children are often caught in the crossfire. One way that a vengeful, possibly psychologically unbalanced spouse can sabotage an ex-spouse is through parental alienation. Parental alienation is a real and growing problem, and it can play a significant role in false child abuse allegations.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS): Definitions and Parameters

According to Dr. Debra Dupree of, parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is "the deliberate attempt by one parent (and/or guardian/significant other) to distance his/her children from [the] other parent. The parent engages the children in the process of destroying the affectional ties that once existed."

Estrangement differs from parental alienation in that estranged parents behave so badly toward a child that the child refuses contact. Estranged parents often accuse their co-parents of practicing parental alienation when, in reality, their own unacceptable behavior triggered the problem.

Some common indicators that point to parental alienation include:

  • Saying negative things about the other parent on a regular basis
  • Sharing an inappropriate amount of information about the divorce with the child
  • Withholding contact information
  • Leaving it up to child to decide whether or not to visit the other parent
  • Twisting the other parent’s good intentions
  • Bribing the child with gifts and/or lack of rules or boundaries
  • Forcing the child to choose one parent over the other

In a 2018 Psychology Today article, Dr. Susan Heitler notes that an alienating parent often manifests narcissistic, borderline, or antisocial tendencies. Self-absorbed narcissists expect the world to revolve around their wants, needs, thoughts, and beliefs. Although narcissists dismiss others' desires or ideas, they can be so disarmingly charming that it's hard to discern this lack of empathy through a casual encounter. Indeed, it can take years to unmask a narcissist.

On the other hand, people with borderline personality disorder exhibit emotional hyper-reactivity, which is often expressed as anger. This type of alienator is particularly vicious about seeking to destroy the other parent's relationship with the children. Worse yet, the alienator often enlists the child in this battle.

Alternatively, those who engage in severe alienation may have an antisocial personality disorder. These people lie convincingly and without remorse. They may also act in ways that harm others, including their own children, without feeling guilty.

The effects of parental alienation linger long into adulthood. A child may feel guilty about loving a parent hated by the other parent, and they fear being abandoned by the alienating parent. The child may never regain a close relationship with the persecuted parent, and frequently has an impaired ability to form healthy, intimate relationships in adulthood.

Parental alienation was first described by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner in 1985. As such, the clinical understanding of parental alienation is still developing. Some researchers consider parental alienation to be a form of emotional child abuse and family violence.

How Parental Alienation Syndrome Relates to False Child Abuse Allegations

Mild to moderate cases of parental alienation are bad enough. However, in a severe parental alienation scenario, the alienating parent may turn a child against another parent to such an extent that the child believes the target parent committed abuse. When a child tells someone about the alleged abuse, Child Protective Services must get involved.

Overworked and undertrained caseworkers tend to accept abuse allegations at face value. Authorities focus their attention on separating the accuser from the accused and may not consider that an alienating parent coached the child. Therefore, the falsely accused parent and his or her legal counsel must present evidence of parental alienation.

How to Fight Back Against False Abuse Allegations Fueled by Parental Alienation

The evidence that a child has been molested or abused is often just the word of an accuser. However, the child's testimony may cause the target parent to lose the case and his reputation. Therefore, the alienated parent must expend an enormous amount of time, effort, and resources to gather evidence that discredits the accuser.

One delicate part of this proceeding is that nobody wants to undermine the credibility of his or her own child. However, when the preponderance of the evidence points to severe parental alienation, a case can be made that the child is simply the puppet of the real accuser, which is the parent who has manipulated the accuser. This is most often seen where a parent (usually a mother) suffers from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP).

According to a Researchgate article, MSP is a complex form of child abuse in which an adult fabricates evidence that her child is ill or even induces symptoms in the child. The modern-day version of this syndrome occurs when the mother insists that her child has been abused by somebody else, usually her ex-husband.

An alienated parent must fight fire with fire and gather what evidence he can to undermine the accuser's credibility. Social media posts, text messages, emails, and all manner of evidence are fair game.

In addition to obtaining expert legal counsel, the unfairly accused parent may need to employ expert psychological help to build a case for parental alienation and/or Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. He may also need to hire a private investigator.

In addition to attacking the credibility of the real accuser (the alienator), the target parent must boost his own reputation. If called upon to testify, his statements must be believable. To accomplish this, he can obtain character witness statements, tell the truth, and maintain consistency in all statements. Passing a lie detector test and a psychological evaluation may also bolster the falsely accused parent's case.

There are several other ways an alienated parent who is falsely accused of child molestation or abuse can fight back against his accuser and the legal system. in this excellent article here.


Parental alienation is real. In the most severe form of parental alienation, parents brainwash children into thinking that the other parent has abused them. These false allegations cause the target parent to have to fight to clear his name.

Understanding parental alienation, however, can help the falsely accused parent fight against it. Unfortunately, it will require a great deal of time, effort, and resources to clear an accusation of child abuse motivated by parental alienation.

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