Parental Alienation in the situation of a divorce or separation – What can a parent do?

Parental Alienation South Africa Law

Parental Alienation in the situation of a divorce or separation – What can a parent do?

Family law becomes challenging when there are children in the equation. If a couple who were not married, broke up, there is not much to squabble about afterward if there were no kids. The same applies to a divorced couple. The only potential issues in such a divorce would be that of the matrimonial property regime and possible personal maintenance. If there are children involved, couples must deal with the issue of child maintenance, care, contact, and guardianship as well. The latter issues are usually the stumbling blocks in a divorce case or post-separation. At the end of the day, in all matters concerning children, the law says that their best interests should be upheld. Now let us look at the issue of parental alienation in the context of child custody disputes.

What is parental alienation?

This article in no means provides a psychological analysis or definition of parental alienation. It deals with the legal relief a parent can seek should parental alienation be perpetrated. On the web, the following definition of parental alienation is provided:

“The term parental alienation refers to psychological manipulation of a child, by saying and doing things that lead the child to look unfavorably on one parent or the other. In essence, parental alienation amounts to brainwashing the child, and it can be done both consciously and unconsciously. This is a significant problem in family law cases and something that the courts take very seriously…”

We are certain there are many more similar definitions. However, what seems to be clear is that parental alienation deals with a situation where one parent tries to detrimentally affect the relationship a child has with the other parent.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

Then there is the issue of parental alienation syndrome (PAS). Whatever the definition or consequence of parental alienation is, it is an issue that needs to be addressed from a legal point of view. This article tackles that. This is so as parental alienation negatively affects the relationship between a child and his or her parent. Clearly, that would not be in the child’s best interests.

What should one do if you suspect parental alienation taking place?

Looking at what constitutes parental alienation, a parent who experiences parental alienation would see a change in the child’s behaviour towards that parent. This change could be for various reasons. Some would be obvious and some less so. It would not mean that parental alienation is taking place due to every change in the child’s demeanour towards the affected parent.


Maybe the child is being adversely affected by the separation or continual arguing by the parents and no parental alienation is actually taking place. Therefore, to verify that there is some form of parental alienation, an expert would need to be approached. In this case, we refer to a psychologist or social worker with the necessary experience and training in relation to parental alienation.

How to stop parental alienation?

If a parent is practising parental alienation, by, for example, badmouthing the other parent, undermining the child’s relationship with the other parent, and so on, before approaching the courts, the parents must try to resolve this issue through less harsh means. Parents must try to go for family or parent counselling, or some type of mediation. This would all be based on the fact that an expert already advised that there is parental alienation taking place which adversely affects the minor child. If the latter suggestions and other potential avenues do not work, then, unfortunately, the court would need to be approached.

What can the Court do regarding parental alienation?

If a parent believes that parental alienation is taking place, and the other parent does not want to work towards eradicating it, then, unfortunately, the court would need to be approached for relief. The court would be guided by what the experts have to say. It may happen that the court request the Family Advocate, or the private psychologist to advise on the issue of parental alienation and give the court some guidance on how it can be eradicated. Each case is different and therefore handled differently.


A court may decide that in order to limit parental alienation, the child should have more contact with the affected parent. For example, the affected parent should be the one that takes and collects the child from school. In other cases, the court may decide to reverse the care and contact arrangements already in place. In other words, the child would not reside primarily by the parent who was the victim of parental alienation.

The court would be guided by what is best for the minor child involved. As the presiding officer and lawyers involved are not child care experts, they would be greatly guided by those who are. However, the court would have the final say in the matter.

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Advocate South Africa

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