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The controversy around parental alienation

Some divorced Pennsylvania parents may have been accused of parental alienation, or they may have had it practiced against them. Parental alienation occurs when one parent badmouths the other parent to a child so much that the child begins to turn against them. While the concept is becoming widely accepted within the legal system, some legal experts as well as the medical establishment are cautious about its use.

Medically, there is no recognized syndrome known as "parental alienation." Legally, a parent could actually be punished for reporting abuse and denied custody and even visitation rights if a judge mistakes an abuse report for parental alienation. One law professor conducted a pilot study and found that in four out of five parental alienation cases that involved a mother claiming the father was abusive, the mother lost custody. She says that in many cases, those mothers were penalized for reporting legitimate abuse.

One man who went into hiding as a teenager with the assistance of his mother to escape an allegedly abusive father is now an advocate for children in the same situation. In his case, there was no clear evidence of abuse. Legal experts say that when there is no clear evidence, a judge may often assume that the parent has influenced the child to lie.

A parent who has been accused of either parental alienation or abuse may want to obtain legal advice in terms of how to counter those allegations. A judge is supposed to make decisions based on the child's best interests, but it can be difficult for the court to ascertain what those are when there is conflicting testimony. The results of a poor decision can be devastating if a child is returned to an abuser or a loving parent is prevented from seeing their child.

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