PARENTAL ALIENATION GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Accusations. Claims that someone has done something improper, illegal, or otherwise undesirable. With regard to parental alienation, these claims usually involve charges of abuse, neglect, or deficient parenting. (In parental alienation cases, the accusations are often false or unfounded.)
Alienated Parent. A parent who has been alienated from a child, and whose relationship with that child has been interfered with, undermined, damaged or disrupted without valid reason or justification.
Alienating Parent. A parent who, either consciously or unconsciously, has either caused, or attempted to cause a child, to become alienated from the other parent.
Alienation. A family dynamic in which a child, as a result of undue influence and/or indoctrination by one parent (or, occasionally by another person such as a stepparent or grandparent), denigrates or rejects the other parent despite the fact that there has been no abuse or neglect, and no other behavior by the rejected parent, that would warrant such denigration and/or rejection by the child. Characteristically, the child expresses negative thoughts, feelings, attitudes and/or behaviors toward the rejected parent that are disproportionate to the child’s actual experience with that parent.
Allegations. A statement declaring someone has done something improper, illegal or otherwise undesirable.
Anchoring effects / anchoring errors. A cognitive (thinking) error in which thinking is unduly influenced by initial information or initial impressions, and in which there is inadequate adjustment when new information becomes available.
Child Protective Services. A governmental agency in some states that responds to reports of child abuse or neglect (a.k.a. Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Social Services, Social Services).
Child Support. An ongoing periodic payment made by one parent to the other parent for the financial support of a child or children following the end of a marriage or relationship.
Clinical Observation. Observation of the behavior of people while they are undergoing diagnosis or treatment. Typically, in the case of Parental Alienation, performed by a mental health care professional or social worker in order to determine custody arrangements.
Clinical Psychologist. A mental health professional who has doctorate-level training in psychology. At least in some states, an individual must be licensed to describe him- or herself as a clinical psychologist. In the U.S., clinical psychologists have usually earned either a Ph.D., an Ed.D. or a Psy.D.
Confirmation Bias. A cognitive (thinking) error in which there is a tendency to seek and focus on evidence that would tend to confirm an existing hypothesis or belief while failing to seek, or neglecting evidence that might refute it.
Counterintuitive. Something that feels, or seems to be, inconsistent with normal intuition or thought processes; something that does not seem to make sense on an intuitive level (except to those with special training or expertise) but which is, nonetheless, correct.
Court Ordered Financial Responsibilities. Financial obligations determined by court proceedings or a judge in order to define the financial responsibilities of each parent.
Custodial Parent. A parent who has physical custody of a child. Typically, the child resides with the custodial parent except as provided for by a court ordered parenting plan or visitation schedule.
Custodial Plan. A written plan outlining how the child or children will spend time with each parent (including holidays and vacations). Sometimes referred to as a parenting or visitation plan.
Custodial Rights. The rights of parents with regard to how they will care for their children following a divorce. These are divided into two major categories: legal and physical custody.
Custody Evaluator. A mental health professional who, usually by court order, evaluates a family in order to assist a court in making decisions regarding child custody, visitation, or parenting practices.
Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The term used in some U.S. states to designate the state agency that deals with child protection, child welfare, domestic violence, and other child- and family-related services. Depending on the state, such agencies go by a variety of names such as Child Protective Services (CPS) or the Department of Social Services (DSS).
Ed.D. An abbreviation that designates a Doctorate in Education. An individual who earns this degree, and who has received special training in the clinical diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues, may become a licensed clinical psychologist.
Enmeshment. An engulfing codependent relationship involving severe boundary violations that is symbiotic in nature and almost always unhealthy. By definition, enmeshed children experience a loss of individuality, autonomy, critical reasoning skills, and sense of self. Also known as pathological enmeshment.
Estrangement. As used in the context of strong child alignment, a situation in which a child has negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors towards a parent, and rejects that parent, as a result of that parent’s abuse, neglect, or markedly deficient parenting skills. Estrangement can be viewed as the physical or emotional distancing of a child toward a parent with reasonable justification based on the parent’s conduct or behavior.
Favored Parent. The parent with whom an aligned child has aligned. Similar to “preferred parent.” This is a neutral term that does not convey any information as to the reason for the child’s alignment.
Focused Evaluation. A brief custody evaluation limited in scope that focuses on specific issues or temporary orders (Performed by a mental health care professional).
Forensic Psychiatry. The application of psychiatry to court-related or legal matters.
Founded allegation of abuse or neglect. A finding, usually following an investigation by a state agency that deals with child welfare, that an allegation of abuse, neglect or other improper conduct, was true, and did occur. Similar in meaning to a “substantiated” allegation.
Fundamental attribution error. A cognitive (thinking) error in which an observer incorrectly assigns a dispositional, characterological or internal cause rather than a situational, environmental or external cause to a behavior.
Inconclusive. A finding by Child Protective Services that there is not enough evidence to determine whether abuse may or may not have occurred.
Legal Custody. The right to make decisions concerning a child’s schooling, religious upbringing and medical care.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy (LMFT). A therapist who has special expertise, as well as licensure, to practice as a marriage and family therapist. Therapists with this credential must at least have a Master’s degree in a relevant mental health discipline.
Minor’s Counsel. An attorney appointed by the court to represent a child. Minor’s counsel only represents the child and does not represent the parents. Also called an Attorney for the Minor Child, or AMC.
Monitored Visitation. Visitation that is supervised by another adult sanctioned by the courts. Sometimes called supervised visitation.
Noncustodial Parent. A parent who, by court order, does not have primary physical custody of his/her child or children.
Nonresident Parent. See noncustodial parent.
Order to Show Cause (OSC). A pleading to the court that requires one or more of the parties involved in a case to justify, explain, or prove something to the court (a.k.a. RFO, request for orders).
Parental Alienation. Efforts by one parent (referred to as the alienating parent) to turn the child unjustifiably against the other parent (referred to as the alienated parent), through the use of indoctrination, manipulation, programming or other types of undue influence of the child. Alienating parents display alienation behaviors and/or employ alienation strategies.
Partial Custody Evaluation. See focused evaluation.
Police Report. A record of an incident thought to be improper, illegal, potentially illegal or otherwise noteworthy taken by a representative of the police department and filed according to the department’s policies.
Ph.D. An abbreviation that designates the degree of “Doctor of Philosophy,” though the term now applies to a doctoral degree in many other fields. The degree indicates that an individual has achieved a doctorate-level understanding of the field.
Physical Custody. The part of custody that relates to the amount of time spent with each parent.
Premature closure. A cognitive (thinking) error in which an evaluator or decision-maker arrives at a conclusion before gathering and/or considering adequate evidence. Often used with respect to making a clinical diagnosis. This is a specific example of “jumping to a conclusion.”
Psychiatrist. A physician who specializes in mental health issues and is authorized to prescribe medication. Psychiatrists evaluate patients to determine whether their symptoms are the result of physical or mental illness.
Psychologist. A doctorate-level mental health professional trained and educated in the study of human behavior. Psychologists evaluate, diagnose, treat and study behavior and mental processes.
Psychotherapy/Psychotherapist. Psychotherapy is a broad, general term that refers to the treatment of mental health problems through discussion or speaking with a mental health professional. Informally, it can be thought of as “talk therapy.” The mental health professional is usually a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker, licensed clinical counselor, or other licensed mental health professional. Psychotherapy (or simply “therapy”) can be used to address a wide variety of issues, for example, to explore and/or improve a client’s thoughts, attitudes, insights, feelings, emotions, impulses, interpersonal skills, communication skills, relationship skills, other behaviors and/or general satisfaction with life. Similarly, psychotherapy is often used to treat mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, anger, or other types of emotional distress. It can also play a role in treating certain mental health disorders. In most places, to refer to him- or herself as a “psychotherapist” or “therapist,” a mental health professional must hold an active license to practice in that capacity.
Psy.D. An abbreviation that designates a doctorate degree pertaining to the practice of clinical psychology. Training programs for the degree of Psy.D. emphasize clinical practice rather than research or research methods.
Rejected Parent. A parent with whom a child has not aligned and is resisting contact. This is a neutral term that conveys no information as to the reason for the child’s rejection of the parent. (Not to be confused with alienated parent which has the connotation that the reason for the rejection is parental alienation; alienated parents are a subset of rejected parents.)
Representativeness error. See “Stereotyping error.”
Residential Parent. See custodial parent.
Restraining Order. A court order prohibiting contact with named protected person(s) for a specific period of time.
Residential Treatment. A treatment program where patients (i.e. child and parent) live temporarily outside their homes in a facility where they can be monitored by trained staff.
Reunification Therapy. Any type of psychotherapy that emphasizes reunification with an alienated or rejected parent in order to repair a parent-child relationship that has been damaged through parental alienation or other causes. Reunification therapy is generally ineffective for severely alienated children, but may be effective for less severe cases.
730 Evaluation. In California, a custody evaluation by a certified psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or marriage and family therapist sanctioned by the court to assess a family situation with respect to child custody.
Social Worker. Mental healthcare professionals that help people with a wide range of issues including psychological, financial, health, relationship and substance abuse problems.
Special Masters. An authority (who is frequently an attorney, but not always) appointed by a judge to ensure that court orders are followed. Special masters supervise those falling under the order of the court to ensure that the court order is being followed. In addition, they report on the activities of the entity being supervised in a timely manner to the judge or judge’s designee.
Stereotyping error. A cognitive (thinking) and judgment error in which an evaluator or decision-maker makes a judgment based on superficial similarities between things (such as conditions, problems, situations or issues) without properly considering ways in which those things differ. Typically, this is due to flawed pattern recognition. Also known as a “representativeness error” because the individual believes (incorrectly) that the thing in question “represents” something when, in actuality, it does not.
Substantiated allegation of abuse or neglect. A finding, usually following an investigation by a state agency that deals with child welfare, that abuse or neglect has occurred. (Similar to a “founded” allegation of abuse or neglect.)
Supervised Contact. See monitored visitation.
Targeted Parent. A parent who is the subject (target) of efforts by an alienating parent, a child, or another alienator to damage that parent’s relationship with the child. Similar, but not identical, to the term alienated parent in that a targeted parent may or may not become alienated from the child, i.e., in some cases, the alienating parent’s attempts to alienate the child toward the targeted parent are not successful; thus, strictly speaking, alienated parents are a subset of targeted parents. Nevertheless, the terms alienated parent and targeted parent are often used interchangeably.
Unfounded allegation of abuse or neglect. A finding, usually following an investigation by a state agency that deals with child welfare, that an allegation of abuse or neglect was false, without basis in fact, and did not occur. (In some places, the term “unfounded” is used only to indicate that the evidence was not sufficient to establish that the allegation is false or that the behavior did not occur. More commonly, however, the term “unsubstantiated” is used to convey such uncertainty. It is important to clarify exactly how such terms are being used by an evaluator or investigator.)
Unsubstantiated allegation of abuse or neglect. A finding, usually following an investigation by a state agency that deals with child welfare, that there was insufficient evidence to establish the truth or falsity of an allegation of abuse or neglect. (Note that “unsubstantiated” does not mean that an allegation is false; merely that there is insufficient evidence to consider the allegation true. By analogy, the situation is similar to the difference between being found “not guilty” and being found “innocent.” From a practical perspective, depending on circumstances, if an allegation is found to be unsubstantiated, it may or may not be considered a false allegation.) The terms unsubstantiated and inconclusive may be used interchangeably.
Visitation. The time a parent physically spends with his or her child or children. Similar to “parenting time.”