Implacable Hostility against Grandparents following Parental Separation and Divorce

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services


Abstract & Summary

This short article considers the repercussions of a parent being alienated from his/her children. There is frequently a generalising effect of such unjust victimization of a frequently good parent be it the father of mother. The alienator influences the child against the maternal/paternal grandparent as well as the extended family. Children who were once close to the now absent parent’s family are now disallowed from further contact, which has been, and could be, beneficial to the child.

Implacable Hostility against Grandparents following Parental Separation and Divorce

Grandparents do not go unscathed when the marriage of a couple fails and results in the implacable hostility of at least one of the partners against the other. Once a partner has been alienated or rejected and prevented from having good contact with the children of the relationship, the extended family, including grandparents are also frequently prevented from further contact.

Grandparents at present do not have any legal rights to be involved with their grandchildren’s lives. When there is implacable hostility expressed by the custodial parent this can cause great pain to the innocent grandparents, especially when they have had a warm and caring relationship with the children in the past.

The children themselves are in a conflict situation and unable to understand why their beloved and loving grandparents have been taken from them. Frequently they hear negative and malicious and mostly untrue comments from the custodial parent with who they reside about the now absent parents and his/her immediate family. This includes predominantly grandparents, but could also include uncles, aunts, cousins etc.

Case illustration

As an expert witness in the area of family problems following an acrimonious divorce or separation, I receive numerous communications not only from alienated parents but also from grandparents. The letter which follows is from a grandmother. It illustrates a feeling of helplessness, sadness, and other negative emotions of the alienated grandparent.

Grandparent alienation

“Dear Dr. Lowenstein,
We are alienated from our three granddaughters due to Parental Alienation. I do not understand why no one seems to be writing about our plight and the emotional abuse we too suffer at the hands of the alienator. Our grandchildren had a wonderful relationship with us and our son until a divorce (which is still continuing today – 12 years later) which can only be described as “pure hell” for our son and our entire family. He was cut off completely from his daughter three years ago due to what the psychologist (two of them now) say are unfounded claims of sexual abuse. Because of the accusations our daughter in law has alienated us from her two daughters. The story is too long and too personal to tell you in any detail but after reading numerous articles written by you I feel like you may have been secretly living in one of our wardrobes.
I have read all of your books and every article of yours and any other expert in the field of parental alienation I can find (not that it will help our grandchildren) because the courts here in the U.S. fail to see “Parental Alienation” as a serious form of child abuse. The feminist groups say it is just an excuse for fathers to sexually and physically abuse their children. This is pure hogwash!!
There is nothing more terrorizing than to watch the slow insidious brainwashing of my grandchildren against my son and our entire family. It is the same as watching someone you love slowly be roasted over an open fire. Because of the opinion of the courts the only thing you can do is to stand by and helplessly watch their total engulfment and death. It is an agony that never leaves you! Please, if at all possible, write some articles or books on the effects of Parental Alienation on us Grandparents. No one is telling our story or taking us seriously.

Thanks for listening.”

This is one of many emails, letters and telephone calls the author receives regularly. These grandparents and many others have urged me to write something about the pain caused by the implacable hostility leading not only to the alienation of a good parent but grandparents and other members of the extended family. What follows is dedicated to this grandmother and all the other grandparents wherever and whoever they are.

The value of grandparents

Grandparents, most especially, and other members of the extended family are often essential substitute parental figures when something untoward occurs. This included the illness or untimely loss of actual parents due to accidents and death.

Sometimes the extended family is also supportive in case parents are found to be unfit to parent for whatever reasons. Before parents divorce or separate, grandparents are often well known to the children. There is frequently a close and loving relationship between grandparents and their grand children. This is of significant value to the children themselves. It also makes the children a part of the supportive network of an extended family.

While grandparents on the whole are likely to support their son or daughter when there is a rift with a daughter or son-in-law, they can also be a force of neutrality and understanding. They may therefore act as a balanced influence on the children or family. They will often do what they can to encourage the parents to find a way, or show conduct which will be in the best interest of the children, who are caught up in the turmoil of the parental conflict.

Such conflicts inevitably have repercussions on children via contact disputes and when one parent is alienated and hence sidelined from having good contact with children. These conflicts between the parents do much harm to the children who have often had a good relationship with both parents.

The children are often uncertain where the blame lies and even blame themselves unjustly, and often the alienated parent. This is because the remaining custodial parent will speak negatively about the absent parent due to the implacable hostility they have towards the now absent parent.

The children feel they need to choose between which parent they should give their loyalty. Since they are living with the custodial parent, they tend to choose to give their support to that parent. This is partly out of fear at having lost one caring parent; they may also lose the custodial parent.

The children in siding with the custodial parent (usually the mother) then are prepared to alienate the now absent parent (usually the father). In recent times the current psychologist, an expert witness to the courts, has noted a shift in the custodial parent being the father rather than the mother. He then, not unlike the maternal figure, when she has custody, seeks to alienate the children against the mother.

There therefore follows a similar scenario where the child favours and is loyal to the father, who seeks to alienate the mother from having good contact with the children. Grandparents in both situations can do much to encourage both parents to refrain from, as much as possible, showing animosity towards one another, and hence upsetting the children. Grandparents should also refrain from taking sides.

Children should not be placed in the position of having to make decisions such as which parent they wish to be with and which one they wish to reject! They should not need to, or have to choose between often two loving parents. Grandparents frequently can help in this respect.

It must be accepted as fact, that in some cases the alienated parent has indeed had faults that affected the relationship both with the other parent and the child. These negative features are often remembered by the child while the good things are forgotten. This is due to the fact that negative excuses or reasons why the parents cannot be together, or cannot have access to their children is all part of the litigation that takes place between the warring factions. This complicates the picture as to why the child does not want good contact with the absent parent and that parent’s extended family and sides are chosen. This often negates the position of the extended family of the alienated parent.

Finally, it must be said that the value of grandparents and the extended family should not be underestimated. It has been shown that extended family networks can do much to increase the children’s feelings of belonging leading to greater security for the child. This is especially the case when parents have been in an acrimonious divorce or separation.

Changing the law re contact of grandparents with grandchildren

One may well need to consider that it is time for the law to be changed in this regard. Currently, parents when separated are provided by the courts with contact with their children following divorce or separation of the parents. The implacable hostility however, of one parent, usually the custodial parent, should not sideline a worthy non abusive parent or indeed the grandparents. This ruling should include the grandparents of children having a right of good contact with their grandchildren. They are frequently innocent parties to any dispute between the actual parents.


Children frequently have a close attachment to the extended family, and especially the grandparents. These are likely to be sidelined by an vindictive unjust alienator. Sometimes, however, such rejection is due totally or partly to the behaviour of the alienated parent. The need to be cognisant of this and act accordingly when making decisions can lead to encouraging good contact between grandparents and their grandchildren. Sometimes children have in the past has an especially good or bad relationship with the grandparents. If the relationship has been good then contact should certainly continue. If it has been poor then such contact will be refused by the children themselves regardless of the wishes of the grandparents of the non custodial parent.

Much damage to children, and suffering for grandparents occurs, when unjustified alienation of a parent lead also to the unjustified alienation of doting, caring and loving grandparents who have been close to their grandchildren in the past.