Most people have heard the term "parental alienation." True parental alienation is more than saying negative things about the other parent. It involves essentially brainwashing a child to believe that the other parent is "unloving and unworthy of love," according to one professor of psychiatry, who calls parental alienation "divorce poison." Positive memories of the parent may be erased. In some cases, a child can be persuaded to falsely accuse a parent of abuse -- perhaps actually believing that the abuse occurred.

Accusations of Abuse

Besides doing emotional damage to a child, parental alienation that involves accusations of abuse or mistreatment can result in judges wrongly taking custody away from a parent who's done nothing wrong and even separating the child from an entire side of his or her family. Conversely, a family court judge may unwittingly place the child in the custody of an abusive parent.

Some psychiatrists believe that the term is thrown around too loosely in family courts. They fear that too many judges fail to believe a parent's (and even the child's) claim of abuse are false because the other parent accuses his or her ex of parental alienation. This can leave truly abusive parents with custody and visitation rights to their children.

Who's Telling the Truth?

Obviously, judges are placed in the extremely difficult position of determining whom to believe. These decisions, when parental alienation is alleged, can be largely subjective. As one family law attorney notes, "You can take the same story, same facts, presented the exact same way, and you will get a different result depending on which judge's courtroom you walk into."

When parents believe that their ex has turned their child against them so much that their children don't want to be with them or even to the point where they're falsely claiming abuse, a family law attorney can help. An attorney may be able to bring in a therapist to help determine the reasons for a child's feelings.

If custody is threatened, it may be necessary to present evidence and witnesses to testify on behalf of the parent whose fitness is being questioned. For everyone's benefit -- particularly the child's -- it's essential to fight back if you believe you and your child are the victims of parental alienation.