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Alienation: The Low Road to High Conflict

In many divorce cases, claims of alienation are quick to surface when one party feels mistreated, either by the other party or by children of the marriage that is ending. In some cases, it is an empty attempt to gain the upper hand in a custody conflict; in other cases, evidence exists to support the claim. How do you know the difference?

As an experienced child custody attorney practicing in Houston, I have seen both sides of this coin. The term “alienation” generally refers to work by child psychologist Richard Gardner, who identified and coined the term parental alienation syndrome decades ago. It comes as a surprise to many that parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is not a recognized syndrome and is not yet listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In addition to rejection of PAS as a defined psychological condition, criticism of Dr. Gardner’s work by the time of his death in 2003 included claims of bias against women, as PAS is used as a primary means of discrediting mothers in custody matters.

While PAS as a theory may have overreached, it did initiate years of research into the complicated psychological dynamics of families prior to and after divorce. In bitter child custody cases, parents interfere with the inherent rights of a child to the natural affection of the other parent if they engage in the following:

  • Speak poorly of the other parent
  • Involve a child in discussions of litigation or divorce
  • Act as if the child does not have a right to a relationship with the other parent

Each case is unique, as are the preferences of children. The worst alienation is that of children from themselves, living in conflicted surroundings that do not support their own best interests.

If you are concerned about child custody or are accused of alienation, seek experienced legal counsel.

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Robert Reid McInvale
Attorney at Law

Robert Reid McInvale is an experienced family law attorney with a comprehensive practice in Houston. He provides dedicated and strong advocacy for his clients, helping them with all the issues surrounding their divorce, separation, child custody, and other marriage and family matters. Attorney McInvale—Reid to clients and friends—seemed destined for a law career. Born while his father was attending Emory University Law School, Reid grew up in Manchester, GA. His father was the city attorney for many years, as well as head of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. It is in the family blood to become lawyers and help people get justice. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall is part of the McInvale family tree.

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