Call now (312) 341 – 0900

Child Custody

Family Law

How to Combat Parental Alienation in Your Custody Case

By Corri Fetman | April 08, 2024

Parental alienation is a term used to describe a situation in which one parent intentionally or unintentionally turns a child against the other parent. It is a common issue that arises in divorce and custody cases, and it can have serious negative effects on both the child and the parent who is being alienated. In this article, we will explore what parental alienation is, some warning signs, how it affects family law custody cases in Illinois, and how to fight back if encountered in your case.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse in which one parent attempts to damage or sever the relationship between the child and the other parent. This can involve a variety of behaviors, such as bad-mouthing the other parent, making false allegations against the other parent, limiting or interfering with contact between the child and the other parent, and encouraging the child to reject or fear the other parent.

In many cases, parental alienation is done intentionally as a way to gain leverage in a custody or visitation dispute. However, it can also happen unintentionally, as a result of a parent’s own insecurities and emotional issues, such as unresolved anger, jealousy, or resentment towards the other parent.

How Does Parental Alienation Affect Divorce Cases in Illinois?

In Illinois, child custody and visitation decisions are made based on the best interests of the child. Parental alienation can be a major factor in determining what is in the best interests of the child, as it can have serious negative effects on the child’s emotional and psychological well-being. Children who are alienated from one parent may experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and difficulty forming healthy relationships in the future.

“Parental alienation syndrome” is a term coined in 1985 to describe a distinctive suite of behaviors in children that includes showing extreme but unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent. Illinois courts do not like the fuzzy psychological concept of “parental alienation.” Illinois courts have specifically said to “throw out the words `parental alienation syndrome.’” In expressly disclaiming any reliance on the [Parental Alienation Syndrome] theory.” In re Marriage of Bates, 212 Ill.2d 489, 289 Ill.Dec. 218, 819 N.E.2d 714 (Ill. 2004)

Instead, Illinois Judges review the law, a variety of statutes and procedures to prevent and discourage anything that looks like parental alienation. If a parent is found to be engaging in parental alienation, it can have a significant impact on custody and visitation decisions. The court may order that the parent who is engaging in alienation undergo counseling or therapy to address the issue. In some cases, the court may even limit or terminate the parent’s custody or visitation rights, depending on the severity of the alienation.

Identifying Warning Signs of Parental Alienation

The first step in the process is to recognize parental alienation. Here are key indicators to help identify parental alienation in your situation:

  1. Quick to Anger: Children undergoing alienation are often overwhelmed by stress, lacking coping mechanisms, and may display heightened irritability.
  2. Low Self-Esteem: Believing negative portrayals of the other parent can lead children to internalize feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness, affecting their self-esteem.
  3. Lack of Impulse Control: Stress-induced behavior, such as outbursts, aggression, or poor decision-making, may manifest in children lacking maturity to manage their emotions effectively.
  4. Separation Anxiety: Children may exhibit anxiety about leaving the alienating parent, perceiving them as a safety net, while feeling uneasy about spending time with the alienated parent.
  5. Signs of Depression: Divorce coupled with parental alienation can exacerbate feelings of sadness and hopelessness in children, potentially leading to depressive symptoms.
  6. Sleeping Problems: Fear of being separated from the alienating parent and apprehension about spending time with the alienated parent can disrupt children’s sleep patterns and contribute to nightmares.
  7. Eating Disorders: Seeking control amid turmoil, children may develop unhealthy eating habits as a coping mechanism, seeking attention or control over their lives.
  8. Academic Struggles: Stress from alienation can impede concentration and lead to behavioral issues, resulting in academic underperformance and difficulties at school.
  9. Substance Abuse: Alienated children may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with emotional turmoil exacerbated by the discord between their parents, exploiting the lack of a united parental front.

Identifying these warning signs can save time and will empower a parent to intervene early, seek support, and mitigate the harmful effects of parental alienation on their children’s well-being.

An Alienated Child Typically Chooses Sides

In our firm’s experience, a child who experiences alienation tends to pick a side – typically siding with the alienating parent and harboring strong negative feelings toward the other parent. The child becomes convinced that the other parent is solely to blame, labeling them as a bad parent or even a bad person, and may develop a deep-seated hatred towards them. While it’s common for children to go through phases of difficulty with both parents, in cases of parental alienation, the child becomes completely entrenched in the perspective of the alienating parent. This often results in a stark dichotomy where one parent is seen as entirely virtuous while the other is vilified. The child may exhibit no remorse in cutting off contact with the alienated parent and may even echo derogatory remarks made by the alienator. Regrettably, oftentimes it can extend to the extended family of the alienated parent, leading the child to reject relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives.

What Can Be Done to Combat Parental Alienation in Illinois?

If you believe that your child or children are being alienated from you by the other parent, it is important to take action as soon as possible. Some steps you can take include:

  1. Documenting the behavior: Keep a journal and record of any instances of alienation, including what was said or done, date and time when it occurred, and any witnesses who were present. Also, text messages, communications, social media posts, messages or any photos may be extremely helpful.
  2. Request counseling: Consider seeking counseling or therapy for yourself and your child to address the effects of alienation.
  3. Consulting with an attorney: If you are involved in a custody or visitation dispute, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney that has experience in parental alienation cases in Illinois. Corri Fetman & Associates, Ltd. has experience in these type of custody cases and has successfully litigated parental alienation cases.
  4. Custody Evaluator: Proving that the other parent is actively destroying the relationship between you and your child will require the assistance of an experienced child custody evaluator usually appointed by the court. However, if you do not agree with the court professional’s recommendations (and one party will always dislike the court professional’s recommendations) that party can hire their own professional to counteract that recommendation and report.
  5. Seeking court assistance: If the other parent is engaging in severe alienation or is refusing to cooperate, you may need to seek a court order to address the issue. This could involve seeking a modification of custody or parenting time arrangements or seeking an order requiring the other parent to undergo counseling or an injunction to cease this conduct. If the conduct continues, then it may be necessary to seek a change of custody.
  6. Persistence: In order to combat parental alienation, it is imperative that persistent communication with the GAL and court about the parental alienation and conduct is mandatory.
  7. Request a GAL/Child Representative: A GAL or Child Representative that is experienced in parental alienation will be able to determine the tell-tale signs of parental alienation and suggest courses of action as well. Custody disputes involving allegations of parental alienation are often he-said, she-said situations. The court may not know whom to believe. In cases like these, a neutral third party, such as a guardian ad litem, may be assigned to the case. The guardian ad litem (GAL) will interview each parent, child, and other individuals involved in the child’s life, such as caretakers or child therapists. The GAL will observe the interactions between the child and the parents, noting any unusual behavior or red flags. He or she may also review the child’s medical records, school reports, and other documents to get a clear picture of the child’s mental and physical health. Proving parental alienation in Illinois can be verified by the Guardian Ad Litem’s investigation and report. That being said, it is still your obligation to consistently and persistently advocate to the Guardian Ad Litem to outline what actions have occurred that could constitute alienation and what recommendations are being made to prevent any future alienation.
  8. Credible Witnesses: It is the goal to demonstrate that the other parent has actively alienated the child from you. It will require quite a bit of circumstantial proof that collectively amounts to substantive evidence. Remember, the parent engaging in parental alienation is not going to deliberately engage in this conduct. Rather, it will be subtle and performed over time by acts of manipulation.
  9. Parenting Plans: In Illinois, both parties are required to submit parenting plans within 120 days of the initiation of the custody case. If one parent submits a parenting plan with little to no parenting time or decision-making, the initial case for parental alienation can be made using their court filings. If the parenting plan exhibits the initial signs of parental alienation (or a parenting plan has not been submitted at all) then a temporary motion must be immediately filed to stem any possible parental alienation.

The good news is that if one party consistently and clearly alienates the children from the other parent…and the court agrees, the physical custody of the child may be transferred to the alienated parent.

In fact, the Illinois Supreme Court in the case of  In re Marriage of Bates found that “[a]ll of the expert testimony supports the conclusion that Norma had consistently failed to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between S.B. and Edward. Dr. Blechman, the court-appointed clinical psychologist, testified that Norma had engaged in a systematic pattern of undermining Edward with S.B. and that only a change of custody to Edward was in the child’s best interests. Dr. Gardner, Edward’s retained expert, testified that Norma had alienated S.B. from her father and that a change of custody was warranted.” In re Marriage of Bates, 819 NE 2d 714 – Ill: Supreme Court 2004


In conclusion, parental alienation is a serious issue that can have lasting negative effects on both children and parents. It is important for parents to be aware of the signs of parental alienation and to take steps to address the issue as soon as possible. If you are involved in a divorce or custody dispute and suspect that parental alienation is occurring, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help you protect your rights and interests and work towards a resolution that is in the best interests of the child. To learn more about your rights, contact our firm at 312-341-0900 or book a consultation by clicking the link below.


Get in touch

To Learn How We Can Help You Address These Matters

Follow Corri Fetman & Associates, Ltd. on Social Media