What if the Alienated Parent has Faults?

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services



Most individuals are imbued with imperfections. It depends as to the degree of imperfection that exists within an individual as to whether they should have unsupervised contact with their children following marital break-up. Mild imperfections should not be considered a claim for non contact with children especially if there had been a good relationship with that parent in the past. The article cites examples of mild to moderate imperfections in parents which are often put forward as an excuse for no contact.

What if the Alienated Parent has Faults?

We have, or most of us, have heard the wise and true saying: “No-one is perfect”. That of course includes parents. Parents are probably under greater scrutiny than ever before. That cannot be a bad thing providing the judgement which follows is not extreme. Parents are “ordinary folks” who have decided to have children or have children by “accident”, that is without planning.

Parents are a cross section of humanity. They are rarely without some problem or other. Some make better parents than others due to their own personal experience as children, how they are brought up, and their own particular genetic make-up. It must therefore be admitted that some alienated parents have moderate to severe faults as adults and most especially in the way they deal with their own children as well as how they deal or relate with one another.

Parents can very roughly be categorized as good or acceptable parents, parents who have moderate faults and limitations, and parents who have severe faults. We shall look at each type parent thus roughly categorized and provide an illustration for each of these categorized types.

We will also consider how much, if any contact such parents warrant having with their children, that is, what role they have or do not have to play in their children’s lives. Let us look at each category in turn, remembering that good, acceptable, moderate parenting is on a continuum.

Good and acceptable parents

These type of parents place much value on doing all that they can to enrich the lives of their children. They guide them through good and difficult times and use measured disciplinary procedures for this reason. This is what good and acceptable parents do. However when marriage problems and divorce enter their relationship one parent is often ostracized unfairly when there is great hostility between these parents after divorce or separation. This is also due to the implacable hostility of one parent against the other. This can lead to one parent seeking to curtail good and effective contact between the child and the now non-resident parent. The non-resident parent is deprived of the previous close and loving relationship and important input with their mutual child/children. Such parents are frequently accused of dealing with a child unfairly or in an extreme manner when this is not necessarily the case.


Mrs X had not seen her two sons for five plus years after an acrimonious separation from her vindictive husband. The court gave custody of the young children to the father. Due to the resentment the father felt towards his former partner he attempted, and succeeded in preventing access for the mother to their mutual children claiming that she used excessive discipline and punishment towards the two boys.

Mrs X denied this claim stating that she only slapped her two boys when their bad behaviour warranted this. The father in turn adopted a permissive attitude towards such behaviour. He considered that their sometimes difficult demeanour was a natural consequence of growing older and that they would in time grow out of it.

The expensive legal team organized on the father’s behalf presented the case to the court that made mother appear to be an abuser who did not deserve to have any or very limited contact with her children. Mother without expert legal support and representing herself and was in a much weaker position to provide a good report of herself before the court. The result was that a judicial decision placed the custody of the children with the father who was the alienating parent. According to the father, the two boys indicated that they did not want to see their mother. This was clearly due to the father’s view that mother could be “danger” to the two boys.

Following the assessment, the current expert witness proposed to mother that she should return to court and he would represent her on a ‘pro bono’ basis. As a result she received the opportunity for supervised contact and later non-supervised contact. The boys valued such contact as supportive. It was suggested to the mother by the expert witness, to make such contact as happy as possible and to avoid any physical punishment during her time with the boys. Eventually, the time with the mother and the boys increased due to their requesting it.

Parents with moderate faults to limitations

Mr & Mrs Y had a stormy relationship with often both parents resorting to domestic violence. This led to such implacable hostility between them that they decided to separate. The father left the matrimonial home reluctantly as he had a 13 year old daughter with whom he had always had a warm and affectionate relationship. Mother claimed via the Social Services that father was a violent man who could not control his anger. She decided that he could therefore propose a definite danger to the daughter. Initially, the court, with the help of the Social Worker agreed, and father was limited to infrequent supervised contact with his daughter.

The father wished to increase such supervised contact and for the contact to become non-supervised contact. He contacted the current expert witness (a psychologist) to carry out an assessment of himself. The psychologist found that there had never been any physical punishment or abuse by the father of his daughter. The assessment also found that the father had been reacting adversely to the mother’s hostility and physical attacks by reciprocating such hostility and hitting back. He had no history of physical violence towards others as verified by witnesses who had known him for many years. The case was returned to court and the psychologist asserted that the father did not pose a danger in any way towards his daughter. On the contrary, past history revealed that he had a close and tender relationship with his daughter. The daughter finally admitted that her father had never been abusive towards her. This was despite the fact the mother had brainwashed her to the point where she had actually believed and claimed that the father was a risk to her and had hit her. She had not actually experienced this but was told by the mother that when she was little the father had hit her on several occasions. The court decided, following the psychologists report, that the father should be observed for several supervised sessions with his daughter. This being successful, unsupervised contact would be considered. Unsupervised contact was eventually granted by the judiciary. The alienating mother had sought to prevent her former partner having good contact with his daughter by claiming his abuse of her thus creating a viable reason to rid her of the contact with her former husband and preventing good contact with his daughter. This way father would be out of her life.

What the mother had failed to mention was her own role in frequently stimulating the mutual domestic violence which had occurred. She also failed to mention that she had a relationship with another person whom she wanted to take over the role of the father in the child’s life.  The psychologist’s view was that there was no connection between the allegation of domestic violence, which in itself was provoked, and the relationship the father could have had with his daughter.

Parents who have severe faults

There are unfortunately parents who abuse their children. They carry out such abuse physically, emotionally, sexually and via neglect. When allegations are made that this has occurred, according to an alienator, careful investigation is in order. If it is proven to be the case that abuse has occurred then the accused having been found guilty needs to be psychologically treated for these problems and no contact arrangements should be made between him/her with the children.

Confirmed paedophiles respond with great difficulty to treatment, even within a therapeutic centre. If they have a history of child sexual abuse they may need to be kept away from access to children totally. There are of course degrees of paedophilia and there is some evidence that they are less likely to sexually abuse their own children but rather abuse other children, especially step children. Unless one is certain of successful and full rehabilitation, it is probably best to provide at best supervised contact. Paedophiles either cannot or do not wish to curtail their paedophile activities. In the case of individuals who have a history of physical or otherwise abusing or neglecting children, the same can be said. Therapy however, is in order for all cases, as there is always a chance that changes and rehabilitation can occur.

It is vital, however, to consider the welfare of the child/children first and foremost. It is always vital to acknowledge the sad but real fact that some alienators, these being on the whole mothers, make such accusations when there is no truth or foundation. This is done by extremely hostile alienators who would and will do anything to prevent their former partner having any contact with their mutual child. Such accusations when proven to be false, are tantamount to being abuse of a pathological nature.

False accusations of sexual abuse by a partner constitutes a very serious sign of parental alienation pathology. Such a parent has not only shown extreme vindictiveness towards a potentially loving and innocent parent but has also used the child for abusing that parent, and should receive the most severe punishment by the court. The parent perpetrating false accusations should also be deprived of being the custodial parent.  The custody of the child/children could well be given to the falsely accused other parent.

Psychologists are frequently involved in carrying out assessments of alleged, “imperfect” individuals to see whether they pose a danger to their children should they have direct contact with them. Sometimes the aggression is between the now absent parent and the custodial parent. This should not be a reason for preventing the now absent parent from having contact with their children providing the violence was not toward the children themselves. In the case where parents have severe faults including neglect, and emotional and/or physical abuse great care should be taken about any contact whatsoever taking place. Contact however, may be established on a supervised basis and the individual be observed by those carrying out the supervision exercise. Needless to say one must always act on the basis of what is in the best interest of the child and certainly not endangering the child in any way via a violent or aggressive parent.