The Alienated Parent Becoming a Stranger

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services


Abstract and Summary

This paper stresses the fact that many alienated parents never or rarely see their children once they have had a acrimonious divorce or separation from their former partner. In due course they will become practically strangers to their children and the reason for this I have delineated in the article. The author seeks to provide some preventive and therapeutic intervention ideas to prevent this from occurring. It is emphasized that the only way to bring about the right solution is through the close collaboration between the expert witness (psychologist/psychiatrist) and the courts working together for the purpose of doing what is in the best interest of children and in so doing also what is in the best interest of all parents. The steps are suggested for achieving this may be controversial but they according to the expert witness of many years provide the only possible just solution to a difficult problem.

The Alienated Parent Becoming a Stranger


We will begin with the positive aspects that could prevent an alienated parent from becoming a stranger. This is by considering:

A. The situation or problem as it is.
B. What can the alienated (rejected) parent do?
C. What if there is no cooperation between the aims of the expert witness and the court?

As frequently stated by the current expert the chances of success in dealing with parental alienation can only be achieved with great difficulty. It requires the close cooperation of the court with the expert in seeking an inclusive policy which involves both parents having contact with their child after divorce and separation, and often after an acrimonious period of time. What must be considered is what is in the best interest of the child. There is therefore no room for the presence and influence wielded by a hostile alienating parent!

A. The situation of problem as it is.

It is a strange and tragic phenomenon that ultimately the once beloved and loving parent, following the process of alienation, becomes “the stranger”. Divorce or separation and implacable hostility combined by one or both parents leads to the alienator eventually having total control of a child/children while the alienated parent becomes a mere marginalized figure in the mind of the child. That person increasingly is forgotten and becomes what may only be considered “a stranger”. What follows provides procedures which could be put in place to prevent alienated parents becoming a stranger to the child.

The realization that this could occur inevitably as a result of no or little contact with a parent, drives many fathers/mothers into despair, and even desperation and suicide. Losing a child permanently is hard to endure and is very much like a bereavement. Eventually, and it may take a very long time, the alienated parent goes on living knowing there is a child/children who no longer have a place in their lives. This does not mean that the parent gives up all hope in all cases. There remains the feeling that one day perhaps, the child, adolescent or adult will seek out the long lost parent.

Unfortunately, such hopes are frequently not realised. This is because to the child, the missing, lost or alienated parent has become a virtual stranger. Hence, absence does not make as the proverb states “the heart grow fonder”. Absence leads to the eventual extinguishing of all closeness and becomes at most a distant, rarely experienced, memory. Eventually the maturing child or adolescent will be aware that he/she has a father/mother but that parent has increasingly played no part in their life. This is especially the case when the process of alienation continues by the custodial parent, claiming wrongly that the long absent parent never loved the child. The child is often unaware how much the absent parent has tried to have good contact.

Many alienated or displaced parents suffer the anguish of knowing their flesh and blood are somewhere in the world. They often do not know where or what has become of them. There are, of course, exceptions, such as where a child or later adult seeks out their lost parent. Sometimes the bereft parent tries to keep some contact by remembering his/her offspring’s birthday and sending something as a superficial reminder that they exist for Christmas or their birthday. The fact that the alienated parent has attempted to have contact by using the court is interpreted (via the alienator) that the absent parent is merely “making trouble” for the resident parent and the child.

Thus drifting into oblivion, many alienated parents either live unhappy, secluded lives, or seek another partner and have more children with that partner. This results frequently in a new family and a feeling that one yet has hope with that new family, but never forgetting the previous one. In this way the pain of being rejected is increasingly healed but not permanently healed. New life brings new hope and the going forward with one’s life. The child who has been alienated and hence prevented in having good happy contact with a once loved natural parent, adjusts gradually by doing without that parent. The remaining parent may seek another partner and encourages the child to consider that partner a replacement for the absent parent or rejected parent. Frequently the child is encouraged to call that new partner “mummy/daddy”.

Sometimes the father/mother substitutes are found in the extended family of the alienator, such as a grandparent, an uncle or aunt etc. Such developments and readjustments are common when the natural parent is excluded and no longer plays a role in the child’s life. In most cases, unfortunately, alienators are successful in having total control of the child until the child him/herself strives and achieves greater independence.

The alienated parent, often after years of striving to have contact with a child, eventually gives up and opts out. The control of the alienator is just too powerful to overcome. The child then relies totally on the one remaining parent for security. The child has often been deceived and misled into believing that the alienated parent has numerous faults and has even abused, neglected and even rejected the child when this is not the case at all.

B. What can the alienated (rejected) parent do?

Initially alienated parents try by any means possible to have good contact with their children. What most alienated parents eventually do is to either succeed or fail and frequently to give up after a number of attempts and going to court on numerous occasions. Most parents reluctantly eventually accept their lot. They accept that they are now “a second class parent”, or a totally rejected parent. They lick their wounds! Most get on with their life one way or another. They often begin developing a new family. They provide financially as they are required to do if able to do so. Letters and cards on birthdays and over Christmas are sent and sometimes are delivered and received by the children. Letters may however, be intercepted and never reach the children concerned. Sometimes, but by no means always, no reply is sent to the absent parent, by the alienating parent and/or the child. The replies, if received may be positive, at least for a time, much depends on the success of the alienator in brainwashing the child against the other parent. If alienation is successful, the child will not reply at all, or reply with anger and insults. The child may have been encouraged to do this by the alienating parent. They may also do this as they wish to please the alienator by taking their side and being against the now absent parent. The hostility of the alienator will constantly influence the child to think likewise.

Eventually the child becomes totally alienated from the absent parent, not wishing to see that parent or even communicate by phone, or letter, or email. The reason for this is complex. Part of the child remembers some of the good times enjoyed with the now absent parent. The child consciously however, represses these positive memories. The child is in a traumatic, conflictual situation. The separation of the parents means that there is only one parent remaining in the life of the child. A child decides that for securities sake he/she cannot afford to lose the remaining parent. Therefore, out of fear the child joins with that parent out of loyalty or fear of being rejected by that parent, or at least severely displeasing that parent.

The now absent parent has no longer any power or control to influence the child. All the power rests in the alienating parent. That parent does little or nothing to encourage the child to think differently. That parent also does little to encourage or truly wish that child to have contact with the now absent and alienated parent. On the contrary, the alienating parent considers the child an ally against the now absent parent and treats him/her as such.

The enmity towards the new absent parent dictates that there is a continuation of the alienation. Under such circumstances, the action of the alienated parent is severely restricted. As an experienced expert witness and clinical psychologist one is frequently asked by such an alienated parent how they should best proceed. The options are very limited. Two main approaches are indicated: 1) communicate with the alienator as well as the children by letter or some other means; 2) providing the court with information concerning the need for someone to act as a mediator or an assessor of the individuals involved in the dispute. This includes both parents and the child/children.

We will attempt to go into greater detail concerning these two approaches.

1. The psychologist has often, in the case of the current psychologist at least, dictated letters to be sent by the alienated parent to the former partner and/or the child/children. The purpose is to make the alienated parent aware of the importance of doing in future what is in the best interest of the child. The communications may succeed but are more likely to fail or fall on deaf ears.

The letter to the child/children should also be dictated by the psychologist to the child. It must be written with a warm, caring and emotional tone or plea. The child is to be reminded always of the good times they experienced in the past with the now alienated parent. There should be an open and welcoming invitation always to the child to make contact with the now absent parent but only if the child wishes to do so. Hence, no pressure or demands should be used to insist that the child makes such contact.
If such an invitation is taken up by the child, and this is by no means certain, the absent parent needs to do two important things to make it work: a) to make the togetherness as enjoyable a period together as possible, hoping that this will encourage the child to seek to have further contact in the future; b) never to speak in a derogatory way about the alienating parent to the child, despite the temptation to do so. Just the reverse should be done, that is, to speak well of the alienator to the child. This provides the child with the feeling that at least one of the parents is not ruled by hostility and anger. This positive attitude and behavior may, through the child, be communicated to the alienator. He/she may or may not necessarily reduce the level of alienation as a result.

In case nothing is received through this route of seeking to gain contact by communications, the expert witness can suggest to the alienated parent and/or their solicitor that an appointment of the expert by the court can lead to two possible interacting steps:

Step 1 – the expert psychologist via the parent or the representative of the parent being appointed by the court and being asked to carry out an assessment of the adults and the children in their contact dispute and report this information back to the court;

Step 2 – The court may decide the way forward is via mediation involving the whole family and/or treatment for various parties involved and most especially the children. This can then lead to further action by the court and as a final measure the court threatening to remove the child from the custody and influence of the alienator. This threat should not be an idle one. The alienator must show by his/her actions that instead of alienating the behaviour of the child that that parent encourages firmly that the child has good contact with the absent parent, and this must take place.

Step 3 – If this does not occur the next step is an immediate requirement, that is, the court actually making a decision that the only course of action is the removal of the child from the alienating parent who restricts or prevents good contact with the absent parent while denying this!

Step 4 – The child is to be treated as suffering emotional abuse due to the alienator. The child is then placed with the alienated parent or within a neutral environment such as the grandparents of the alienated parent, or to be placed in care. Here the previously alienated parent can have access to the child and seek to have good contact and reduce the effects of the alienation by once again establishing a warm and loving relationship with the child. There is a need of course, to overcome the process of alienation to which the child has been subjected over a long period of time in many cases. The alienator on the other hand should have no access to the child until treatment has been provided and there is a successful change in the alienator’s conduct towards the child and the alienated parent. A lack of cooperation by the alienator should result in permanent change of custody of the child with the non alienating parent. It also requires that the alienating parent should play no further role in the child’s life. This is due to the likelihood that the alienator will continue the process of alienation as they suffer from a pathological mental condition that creates an obsessive compulsive urge of unabated, uncontrolled hostility toward the alienated parent.

C. What if there is no cooperation between the aims of the expert witness and the court?

If there is insufficient, or a total lack of cooperation between the views and aspirations of the Judiciary and the expert witness, things are likely to look bleak for the alienated party. Then indeed, the alienated parent is more likely eventually to become permanently estranged and will be viewed by the child as a “stranger” for most of his/her life. This is due to the fact that the court and the experts do not agree on the following:

1. What is in the best interest of the child/children.
2. That both parents have the right to good and regular contact with their children unless they have been proven to be abusers (including being an alienator emotional abuser).

Under these unfortunate circumstances, the alienation will continue with the developing of the child toward adolescence and becoming an adult without changing the views towards the alienated parents. Unless something unforeseen occurs and/or the alienated individual, for whatever reason, wishes to make contact with the absent parent, no contact will ever ensue. The advice given to alienated parents is wrong when it is stated that sooner or later contact between the absent parent will eventually take place. Most information indicates, alas, that this is unlikely to happen. It may occur due to the curiosity of the child eventually who has been estranged and the fact that they wonder about their natural absent parent. It may also occur any time there is a conflict or rift between the alienator and the alienated child or adolescent. Then, long overdue, the alienated individual may seek out the parent who has been absent, and may even understand, how this unfortunate, loving parent has suffered and has been treated so unjustly and so cruelly.
It is because of the inevitability that a good parent can become a stranger, that I have continued my own work as an expert witness having reached my 83rd year. It is my intention to continue to work in this field to try to prevent good parents becoming strangers to their beloved children. To achieve this valuable end I will need the cooperation of the judicial system. Unfortunately evidence indicates this is currently lacking.