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Parental Alienation

Divorce is difficult for any family, but it can be particularly tumultuous to a family with children. Child custody is often hard-fought, and the reasons for the divorce and the process of determining child custody itself can have negative effects on both the parents and the child. It is important never to involve your child in a divorce. Said involvement can cause long-term damage to your child.

Parental Alienation, sometimes known as parental alienation syndrome or PAS, occurs when, in the context of a child custody dispute, a child campaigns to disparage one parent without any justification. Parental Alienation often occurs when one parent “brainwashes” a child to hate the other parent without justification. It is extremely damaging to the child on a psychological and familial level.

Parens Patriae

New Jersey family courts have a responsibility to children under ‘parens patriae’, which is the legal doctrine that authorizes the court to intervene where it is necessary to prevent harm to a child. Fawzy v. Fawzy, 199 N.J. 456 (2009). When dealing with a claim of Parental Alienation, proving that alienation exists can be difficult since there is rarely any examinable evidence of alienation. Unfortunately, some parents make claims of Parental Alienation where only minor problems exist between the child and the parent, often out of frustration or anger with the other parent. Courts will generally attempt to interview the child (if he or she is old enough) as well as the parents to determine if alienation exists. Courts may then require counseling for the family in order to restore a healthy relationship between the child and the alienated parent, and stop the alienating behavior of the other parent.

Change of Custody

Change of custody from the alienating spouse to the alienated spouse may be necessary in rare cases of parental alienation, though such a change could prove even more damaging to a child who has been brainwashed to hate the alienated parent. Because of this, experts in child psychology are regularly required to testify as to what course of corrective action is in the best interest of the child.

Parental Alienation Civil Suit – Segal v. Lynch

A parent that alienates a child against the other parent may be subject to a civil lawsuit (as opposed to a family court action) as well. In 2010 the New Jersey Appellate Division faced a civil case of parental alienation for the first time. In Segal v. Lynch the court held that an alienated parent may bring a civil suit against the alienating parent only if the alienation is extreme, such a making false claims of sexual abuse. In Segal, the court did not allow the civil claim because it was not an extreme case in the court’s opinion. The court expressed its concern about civil cases for Parental Alienation, due to the potential for harm to the child in having to testify against a parent. If you have any questions about Parental Alienation call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen to schedule a free initial consultation with a NJ custody lawyer.  


Segal v. Lynch , 413 N.J. Super. 171 (2010).
Fawzy v. Fawzy , 199 N.J. 456 (2009).

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