Parental alienation: what is it, law, is it a crime? Know what to do

Marriage represents, for many people, an important and notorious act. More than a beautiful party and a traditional celebration – regardless of how it is celebrated – getting married involves a change in legal and personal status.

These changes do not refer to living together (as soon as those who marry do not need to join the brushes, even those who do not have to marry), neither does it mean adding a surname or finally becoming a family, as soon as affective ties are independent of legal legality.

Even in recent years, the diversity of families has increased – couples with children, single mothers, single parents, second marriage, stable relationships, affective mothers and fathers, as well as relatives or friends who are part of the family.

Many of these families involve biological children, adopted or stepchildren. Newborn child, babies, teenagers, twins, triplets, brothers, only children. No matter the quantity or age, they assign fathers and mothers responsibilities with education, well-being, development and, above all, affectivity.

But relationships or marriages are sometimes not eternal. If we consider only civil marriages, according to IBGE data, in 2016 there was a 3.7% drop compared to 2015. Divorces increased 4.7% in the same period (from 2015 to 2016).

What may seem like a not so happy ending for couples, actually represents an opportunity to start life over and follow new paths. Or should.

Many of the family unions are composed of children who, in the midst of the separation process, end up being the target of the affective conflicts of the parents – that is, of those who should care for their well-being and physical and emotional integrity.

Fathers and mothers, shaken by insecurity or dissatisfaction with the relationship, initiate a series of behaviors – which can have degrees from mild to the most intense – harmful to the child or adolescent, usually intending to distance them from one of the parents.

As with any family condition, parental alienation – as one of the parents’ manipulation of children is called in order to degrade, alienate or affect the other parent – constitutes a delicate, serious and quite complex situation.

What is it and what can be considered parental alienation?

When any person who bears responsibility for the child (biological or emotional parents and mothers, grandparents, spouses or legal guardians) induces him to withdraw from the other parent, prevents coexistence, distorts the family image, coerces or holds him responsible for the end of the relationship or due to the actions that belong to the couple alone, the parental alienation syndrome is characterized.

Although the situation is legally new, perhaps – and most likely – it is not so recent, because the cases in which one of the parents, when divorcing, takes the children away and prevents family life is not new.

But this is just one of the types, in which the forced family break-up was latent and merciless, since the list of actions framed as parental alienation is long.

Recent studies indicate the serious and persistent impacts on the child’s life, as well as on the child’s development.

Therefore, situations in which the person responsible for the child or adolescent acts inappropriately and may generate immediate and future damage to the child can be characterized as alienation, for example:

  • Degrading statements about the other parent are manifested;
  • The parent lies about the other responsible;
  • There is separation and one of the parents, motivated by jealousy, coerces the child to tell, report or give details about life or routine, in order to investigate or monitor the other;
  • The child is induced to withdraw or break affective ties (such as saying that the father or mother does not love him anymore);
  • There is a residential separation and the child is prevented from living or going to the home of the other responsible person;
  • Dislike is created with the new family of the other parent, inducing the child to refuse stepmothers or stepfathers;
  • A parent gives the child or adolescent the responsibility to demand affection, presence or financial resources from the other responsible (knowing that it is up to the parents and guardians to maintain a balanced dialogue about the duties and rights of each one, without involving the child in the relationship).

It is worth remembering that it is not only when there is a divorce or effective separation of homes that parental alienation actions can occur.

The cases can also happen in the midst of crises or critical periods of the relationship, or even in a prolonged way (when the relationship of the couple or family is constantly involved in fights).

For example, when there is a family breakup or distance, and uncles and grandparents – who participate daily and effectively in the child’s education – are removed from living with the child.

In view of this complex situation, Law 12.318 was more recently approved and published in 2010, in order to preserve the child’s emotional, affective and mental integrity, ensuring the right to family life with parents, as well as preventing psychological abuse by children. responsible.

Although the law is primarily focused on assisting children and adolescents, it is important to note that fathers or mothers (as well as other family members who may experience this situation) have rights and duties in relation to their children, and that this parental alienation can emotionally harm the affected parent as well.

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome (SAP)?

The term Parental Alienation Syndrome (SAP) appeared in 1985, proposed by the psychiatrist and researcher Richard Gardner. Briefly, the condition involves a parent who uses psychological and physical resources to break the bonds between the other parent and the children, causing malaise, anxiety , fear or family disaffection.

Marcos Meier, psychologist and master of education, points out that the concept of alienation is relative to making it strange, to exclude:

“The parental alienation syndrome is the set of symptoms that a child ends up showing to be suffering from the exclusion of his father or mother”

Most of the cases found involve situations of separation (divorce), in which one of the parts of the couple does not accept the end of the relationship or, if it does, cannot emotionally and psychologically disengage from the other person.

Thus, feelings of sadness, fights and emotional and affective frustration towards the partner end up being transferred to the child as a way of watching, punishing or demoralizing the other.

It is possible, then, to create non-existent situations (such as a false abandonment because the other left home), to prevent visits or to “brainwash” the children, as the lawyer Filipe Z. Gaspar points out.

But there is not always the separation of the couple for the parental alienation to occur.

For example, children can be manipulated and used as a way to maintain the relationship – as when there is a threat that the other responsible person will no longer be able to see the child if the separation takes place.

According to the SAP portal – Parental Alienation Syndrome, approximately 80% of the children of divorced parents have experienced cases of parental alienation in the United States.

The numbers can be even higher, considering that alienation is not always perceived or verified. In addition, not all cases are reported and, therefore, there is no more accurate data.

Does parental alienation have an ICD?

In June 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized and added the parental alienation syndrome to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or ICD-11.

ICD-11 is an update to the already used ICD-10, which will take effect on January 1, 2022.

The entry of parental alienation in the CID means that the condition has gained official and international recognition.

But it is worth noting that the ICD does not only address diseases, but also conditions or situations that affect development and physical and mental health.

Therefore, only the term “parental alienation” can be found in ICD-11, within the code QE52.0 – relational problems of the child with the caregiver , as soon as the syndrome refers to the pathology, and the parental alienation does not constitute a syndrome in the clinical sense (that is, as a disease).

This means that within the QE52.0 code there are a number of situations related to the child / caregiver capable of causing harm or symptoms to the people involved, including parental alienation.

How to deal with separation or family conflicts?

Children must participate adequately in family dynamics. That is, it is important to include them and inform them about what happens (divorces, change of residence, economic organization).

As Marcos Meier points out, a divorce hardly occurs without affective or emotional consequences, but the key is to know that there are ways to minimize these occurrences, reducing the damage or the effects triggered.

A study carried out in 2013, in Lisbon, points out the advantages that the adequate participation of children and adolescents brings to the resolution of problems and to their own children, because in addition to contributing to training and development (reflecting in the future on their interpersonal skills), the children feel integrated and participative.

There is also a tendency to improve family communication and alleviate conflicts.

It is worth remembering that children are an important part of the family and often assume decisive roles in the choices of those responsible. For example, it is common for reports of marriages that are kept to preserve the children, but have never given a voice to the child, to know how he feels.

So, in this sense, it is important to consider the children’s perceptions and opinions as well. Emphasizing, as Marcos Meier points out, the prioritization of the child’s well-being through respect, affection and wisdom.

Other benefits pointed out by the study are the affective strengthening, in which children tighten their bonds and feel more comfortable talking and trusting their parents or guardians.

Matters should always be dealt with appropriately, using compatible ways of approaching them, so that the child or adolescent can interpret, understand and deal with.

This is because the objective of inclusion is to avoid exactly the situations of alienation, in which the sadness or the sorrows of one of the parents affect the child, involving him / her in a situation that he / she does not have to participate in.

How to identify an alienation? Are there any symptoms?

It is not always easy to identify an abuse situation, especially when you are in the middle of it. There are signs that are not specific or exclusive to parental alienation, but they can give evidence of the occurrence.

As parental alienation usually occurs together with emotional conflicts between the couple, during the separation or when the guardians are going through moments of emotional sensitivity, realizing that children are being involved can, in some cases, be difficult.

Another point of difficulty is that alienation does not always occur very explicitly. As Filipe Z. Gaspar points out, this conflict manifests itself in varying degrees within the home and, not always, there is a rupture in the coexistence with the child (which is one of the characteristic pictures).

It is important, then, to observe the behavior of the minor. In this case, it is not only the parent who can notice changes, but also other family members, teachers and people living with them.

In cases evaluated by psychologists or psychosocial staff, professionals should consider as signs or indications when the child:

  • Presents negative speeches about one of those responsible, usually presenting adjectives or actions that are not part of the children’s world or its repertoire;
  • It presents confusion between events, usually caused by the distortion of actions (the parent builds a false image of the other);
  • Feels afraid or has resistance to living with one of the parents.

In addition, severe pictures of alienation may include immediate psychological impacts, causing the child to present:

  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Anguish;
  • Fear;
  • Social inhibition.

It is worth remembering that environments of constant fights, discussion and divorce proceedings can promote toxic environments, causing these same feelings and signs in the child. Therefore, it is up to the responsible social and legal assistance team to properly assess the situation.

Among the observable behavior, it is important to pay attention to the following aspects:

At school

The child may show a reduction in school performance, including lower grades or less participation in the classroom.

Changes in interaction with peers may also occur, in which the child becomes quieter or more apathetic.

In general, it is necessary to consider that witnessing frequent conflicts at home, involving those responsible or close people, can have major impacts on the child’s development and, in some cases, may indicate that he is being involved in the situation.

At home

It is worth remembering that the degrees of alienation are diverse and can include a distortion of the parent’s image (causing a false memory or impacting the affective relationship) or a total breakdown of the relationship.

So, if the child presents a withdrawal or a refusal to the other parent, for no apparent reason, or speaks badly (usually with arguments that are not part of his repertoire or knowledge), suspicion of alienation can be raised.

However, it is only up to a highly trained professional to evaluate these cases, especially when young children are involved. For refusing the presence of an adult, presenting behavioral changes, manifesting depression and anxiety, needs a careful and attentive look through the various possibilities.

What are the impacts on the health of the child or adolescent?

It is necessary to know that there are a series of factors that go through the affectionate relationships. Emotional abuse, distortion of the parent’s image and physical impediment to maintaining family ties can have immense impacts on the formation, development and health of children and adolescents.

They are largely affected by the situation, as they become the center of abuse by one of the parents, have their perceptions and memories distorted, have their rights to private family life, resulting in immediate and future impacts.

Psychologist Marcos Meier points out that this destruction of the image causes future difficulties in the relationships of authority, in the interactions with affective peers and in the very security of imposing and acting in the world.

Initially, it must be considered that the alienator can build a reality in which the child feels rejected or unloved by the other responsible. The forced disruption of coexistence can create an environment of helplessness and abandonment, which can affect the child’s biopsychosocial development, possibly reflecting for a lifetime.

Low self-esteem

It is possible that the responsible alienator becomes aggressive, abusive and promotes a hostile environment due to the suffering caused by the separation. Thus, the alienator often starts to blame the child for the divorce situation (which, little by little, can adopt this feeling).

The child may feel rejected and helpless by the parents, usually reflecting on their self-esteem . This results in declines in productivity, feelings of inability, shame and lack of motivation.

Depression and anxiety

Any hostile environment can have major impacts on mental health , especially for children, as they are still in development.

In general, depression, profound sadness , constant mood swings, anxiety, fear and insomnia are common .

Greater propensity to use alcohol and drugs

The period of adolescence is, in general, turbulent and full of conflicts typical of the age. To cope well with this stage of maturity, the adolescent needs a solid family structure that is present in his life.

It is worth remembering that separate couples continue to constitute the family of their children, and it is always better to resort to divorce than to remain in relationships that cause pain and suffering to those involved.

Whether teenagers who were alienated in childhood, or those who remain alienated, there are greater risks of seeking alcohol abuse and drug use as a measure to deal with the problem.

There may be greater difficulty in the dialogue between parents and children, promoting a family distance that also facilitates risky behaviors.

Family consequences

It is also important to consider that there are effects on the alienated, that is, on the parent who is excluded from the child’s life. The mother, father, grandparents, uncles, children or madrasas are targets of defamation, lies and emotional constraints, inflicting suffering on him as well.

In addition, the removal of contact with the child generates great emotional impacts, remembering that it is the right of the responsible to monitor the daily routines and activities of the child.

In the midst of this, there is also the disruption of the family nucleus, which reflects emotional shocks to all those involved in the child’s routine.

It is important to remember that it is not necessary to maintain a marriage relationship in order for family links to be maintained and respected.

For this reason, even with separated parents, it is important to have mutual respect that ensures an adequate environment for the child and adults as well, as family conflicts can cause injuries to everyone involved.

What to do?

Psychological monitoring is essential in these cases, both for the child and for those responsible.

This is because the child suffers the direct impact of alienation, and may manifest symptoms of sadness and depression, for example. But it is not enough to alleviate the problem – or to seek treatment only for the child – if the parents do not resolve their own conflicts.

For this reason, professionals in psychology, social assistance, therapists and even psychiatrists help to understand the best approaches for each case.

Guardians need to learn how to deal with frustrations, respect the role of the other parent as part of the child’s family, as well as understand the impact that hostile and conflicting environments have (both on the child and on the person himself).

Children and adolescents generally need psychological support aimed at resolving this alienation, jointly treating other disorders that may have manifested themselves (such as depression, anxiety and feelings of rejection).

When the coexistence of those responsible is not feasible and harmonious, separation with shared custody is, in general, adopted by judges, who will determine the procedures analyzing the case individually.

How does the law on parental alienation work?

According to Article 4 of the Statute of Children and Adolescents, it is the duty of the family, the community and the public authorities to assist children and adolescents, guaranteeing them the right to life, education, culture, dignity, leisure and family life. It was then up to the National Congress to enact law No. 12,318 , on August 26, 2010, which deals with the parental alienation syndrome.

The publication aims to reinforce that it is a legal and social duty to assist children and adolescents under aspects of the State, as well as to ensure that parents and other responsible institutions fulfill their proper roles.

Thus, there may be legal interference, provided that a lawsuit or complaint is opened, investigating living conditions and care for children.

As lawyer Filipe Z. Gaspar points out, those interested in reporting the case can resort to the divorce process itself (when the separation is in progress or already concluded) or, if there is no separation process, to the Social Assistance Centers, such as the CRAS.

According to the authors and rapporteurs of the Bill, the objective is to legally define what is meant by parental alienation, allowing actions and measures to be adopted in the legal sphere in order to minimize the occurrences, ensuring the integrity of the child and the child. adolescent.

The objective of the Law is not, however, to break family autonomy, but to guarantee that rights and duties are fulfilled, preserving the most vulnerable part of the family unit: the smallest.

What actions does the law consider parental alienation?

In the 2nd article of the publication, which punctuates the actions that are legally recognized as parental alienation, it appears:

I – carry out a campaign to disqualify the parent’s conduct in the exercise of paternity or maternity;

II – hinder the exercise of parental authority;

III – hinder contact of a child or adolescent with a parent;

IV – hinder the exercise of the regulated right to family coexistence;

V – deliberately omitting relevant personal information about the child or adolescent from the parent, including school, medical and address changes;

VI – to present a false denunciation against the parent, against his / her family members or against grandparents, in order to prevent or hinder their coexistence with the child or adolescent;

VII – change the domicile to a distant location, without justification, aiming at making it difficult for the child or adolescent to live with the other parent, their family members or grandparents.

But it is important to remember that the process is open to interpretation by the judge and the psychosocial assessment team, making it possible for other forms of abuse to be framed as alienation as well.

The law shows that children and adolescents who are victims of parental alienation have negative psycho-affective impacts, constituting moral abuse and neglect of guardians towards minors.

What happens when I make a report?

Abuses must be reported and, based on Law No. 12,318, will be investigated by the Public Ministry. It is important to remember that not every complaint proceeds to legal action, as soon as there is a need for evidence that will be investigated and need proof, preventing the law from being used improperly.

As lawyer Filipe Z. Gaspar points out, the action continues with the psychological or biopsychosocial expertise of the case, which includes monitoring and the opportunity for the child to speak up.

After analyzing the case, a series of measures can be taken to solve the problem. Remembering that there are different levels of abuse or manipulation and, therefore, each case must be considered with its particularities, always paying attention to the interests of the child, as reinforced by the lawyer.

Article 6 of the Law lists that the alienator (that is, the responsible person who is alienating the child) can be warned about the condition, that is, receive only one notification.

If the couple is legally separated, justice can increase the period of coexistence between the child and the parent (for example, if it used to be on weekends before, it can be increased to 4 or 5 days a week).

There is also the possibility of imposing a fine and referring those involved to psychological and / or biopsychosocial follow-up. In broader cases, it is up to the Justice:

  • Prevent by determination that the legal guardian does not change his home address;
  • Changing the custody (being single or shared custody);
  • Suspend parental authority, effectively breaking the links.

It is worth mentioning that the objective of the law is to promote, in the best possible way, a healthy family nucleus for the child.

In cases in which the child’s or adolescent’s aggravated psychological alterations are found (which may present paranoia, severe emotional alteration, aggression, outbreaks or exacerbated fear of the other parent), permanent removal measures can be determined.

It is important to emphasize that the separation of the couple is not responsible for the abandonment, but it is the misconduct of those responsible. Thus, the daily presence of a father or mother does not determine the mental health or happiness of the children, but rather an adequate and balanced environment that meets the needs of the child.

In this sense, the complexity of the situations is quite latent. In other words, not all coexistence with both parents is healthy, as well as not all distance is necessary.

How to prove parental alienation?

After the complaint is filed, there is a need for evidence, which is collected during the investigation process.

Witnesses, testimonies and reports (schoolchildren or messages exchanged between those responsible, for example) can be part of the process. But, as lawyer Filipe Z. Gaspar points out, the speech of the child or adolescent is a fundamental point.

It is worth remembering that attentive and prepared teams are needed to deal with these situations, since especially young children sometimes give subtle clues in their testimonies.

More intensive monitoring and follow-up of the routine can be requested. In these cases, the social assistance team makes visits to the home and stays for a while analyzing the relationship and family behavior.

Is parental alienation a crime?

According to lawyer Filipe Z. Gaspar, there is no specific legislation or criminal conduct for the matter. This means that the judge responsible for the process will analyze and determine the conduct of those responsible (which may be a warning, a fine or even loss of custody).

So there is, objectively, the criminal concept of parental alienation, but there is a justification for not criminalizing conduct: cases that harm the integrity of the child and adolescent are already assisted, under the criminal perspective, by other criminal types.

For example, speaking ill of the other parent or creating false affective memories in the child can be framed in the practices of injury (Penal Constitution, art. 140) or defamation (Penal Constitution, art. 139).

Or in cases of shared custody, in which one of the parents prevents or hinders the coexistence between the parties, the injured person may resort to the custody process, alleging the breach of the guardianship agreement.

What happens in cases of false reporting of parental alienation?

Once the false denunciation or allegation of parental alienation is found, usually when the person tries to subvert the law, the parent who feels wronged can file a lawsuit against the accuser.

In this case, as lawyer Filipe Z. Gaspar points out, there is a separate process, based on the practice of slander (Penal Constitution, art. 138) or false communication of crime or misdemeanor (Penal Constitution art. 340).

Thus, the process proceeds as the penalties of each criminal article determine.

The other side of parental alienation

It is important to note that the family configuration is extremely complex and that, not always, a legal assessment is able to determine the functioning of family relationships.

Although the law is based on assistance and protection to children, debates about its effectiveness and its uses are raised around the world, driven also by the Commission on Citizenship and Human Rights (CCDH).

As Marcos Meier points out:

“To evaluate only the ex-spouses’ report is to enter a puzzle with missing pieces”, being essential a careful look at the family dynamics.

Recently, in Mexico, the law against parental alienation was repealed, considering that there was a misapplication of the actions.

In general, what happens in these cases is that mothers perceive the extreme violence of the father with the child (usually physical or sexual violence) and, when reporting and not obtaining legal protection, remove the child from the other parent.

The position of abusive parent can be occupied by both men and women, but statistically, it is the male figure (father, stepfather, uncle, grandfather) who violates the child’s integrity, whether by physical or sexual aggression.

Data collected from Dial 100 (channel for reporting violence) reveal that up to 80% of cases of violence against children and adolescents occur in the family environment, with parents and stepfathers being the biggest abusers and aggressors.

So, the abuser makes use of the law of parental alienation, reversing the premise of child protection, accusing the mother of distancing or preventing family life.

Despite the process proceeding in the same way – in which a legal investigation is needed to validate the process – what NGOs and groups that are unfavorable to the law point out is that the judicial system often falls into the error of the evidence, making it difficult for the mother to prove the violence. that the children suffered.

In addition, there are extrajudicial factors that can affect the outcome of the proceedings, such as economic power – in which, considering the world average, he is the man who occupies a more privileged social condition, being able to afford legal proceedings more easily – and coercion psychological and social – where threats by the abuser prevent the mother from reporting or proceeding in court.

The result is that, in several countries, lawsuits are underway, including reports of mothers obliged to cede custody of their children to parents accused of physically, sexually and emotionally violating children.

In these cases, then, the law becomes trivialized, as the lawyer Filipe G. Gaspar points out. The resource begins to be used to reach the victim and at the same time the child, using it as a tool to subvert the objective of protection and family integrity. According to Marcos Meier:

“ The law is important and welcome, but insufficient, like any law. It is not enough to know right and wrong, it is necessary to know the reasons that underlie a good decision. ”

Therefore, it is important to show that legal guardians are responsible for the protection of minors, assisting and guaranteeing dignified rights for their development.

It is also up to society to pay attention to family signs and behaviors, involving a complex work between educational policies. In this sense, school, family and community should assist in combating and reporting violence against children and women.

If you witness or witness any act of physical, emotional, sexual, psychological or economic violence, there are anonymous reporting channels that can help save lives, such as 180.


The feelings that are manifested in family or social relationships are quite complex and often conflicting. The family nucleus – independent of the organization – must always cherish harmonious and healthy coexistence.

Dealing with emotions and feelings is generally not simple even for adults. But when children and adolescents are involved, care must be even greater, as soon as there is a legal responsibility to preserve their physical and mental integrity.

Professional mediations – such as psychologists or social workers – assist in the proper management of family and personal dynamics, and they can and should be considered before there is even a problem or conflict.

Always remembering that the role of the guardians (parents, school, state and society) is to promote healthy development for the child, creating an appropriate environment for the other people involved as well.

For more information on healthy development, read the Healthy Minute!

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