Mathew Sullivan, Marsha Pruett, Janet Johnston


© 2023 Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. Family Court Rev. 2023; 1–18. 1

page1image21826816FAMILY COURT REVIEW


This article argues that in order to intervene effectively and ethically with children who are manifesting Parent–child contact problems (PCCPs) after parental separation, we begin by being mindful of what is normal about divorce transitions and use developmentally appropriate and cultur- ally sensitive analysis to rule out children’s common transi- tory reactions. It is then important to concurrently assess for both family violence (FV) and severe parental alienating behavior (PAB) on the part of both parents, which can co- occur in some cases. The article asserts that it is also impor- tant to consider common problematic parenting responses that may potentiate the PCCP but not necessarily rise to the level of abuse. FV is defined as a child’s direct experi- ence of physical, sexual, or psychological maltreatment and indirect exposure to sibling abuse and/or to intimate part- ner violence (IPV). PAB is defined as an ongoing pattern of unwarranted negative messages on the part of one parent that conveys that the child’s other parent is disinterested, irrelevant, dangerous, and not to be trusted. Any one or all of these factors may contribute to a child’s strident negativ- ity and sustained rejection of one parent, these being defin- ing features of a PCCP. This article proposes ethical principles and priorities for decision-making in these cases, considering the growing social science controversy about assessment and intervention for PCCPs. It concludes with

Parent–child contact problems (PCCPs) refer to a spectrum of family dynamics that result in a child developing resis- tance and sometimes refusal to have contact with one of their parents. PCCPs occur on a continuum of severity, legal and psychological interventions have been developed to attempt to fit the nature and severity of the particular case (Fidler & Bala, 2020, Judge & Deutsch, 2016). Some common reasons for PCCPs developing can include histori- cally limited marginal parental involvement in the child’s life, poor parental attunement to the child’s needs, and the poor handling of children’s normal developmental adjustment to shared parenting arrangements (developmental and attachment issues, dissatisfaction with current parenting arrangements, etc.). Other common reasons include chil- dren’s response to interparental conflict (aligning with a parent to cope with being caught in the middle of parental conflict), and children’s response to severe problems in parenting and coparenting.

PCCPs can be a response to family violence (FV), which is an umbrella term for various kinds of violence that include child abuse, neglect, and intimate partner violence (IPV). Parental alienation (PA) is a type of PCCP where a child, for no adequate or justifiable reason, expresses negative attitudes, beliefs, and behavior toward one of his/her parents primarily due to the preferred parent’s denigrating attitudes, beliefs and sabotaging behaviors. A finding of PA should only occur when the dominant single factor contributing to the child’s resistance and refusal is a pattern of PABs by the preferred parent.


an analysis of recent, contrasting policy approaches to PCCPs (e.g., Kayden’s Law and the Joint Statement of the AFCC and NCJFCJ) and their potential impact on family jus- tice system professionals and the families they serve.


domestic violence, intimate partner violence, Kayden’s law, parental alienating behaviors, parental alienation, parent–child contact problems

Key points for the family court community

  • This article provides more precision in defining Parent– child contact problems, Family Violence, Parental Alien- ation, and Parental alienating behaviors.
  • This article asserts that in addition to forms of violence in families such as sexual and physical abuse and IPV, severe PABs represent a form of FV akin to psychological maltreatment.
  • We offer a framework that prioritizes the safety of child and victim parents, with a focus on safety in the face of parental conduct that is damaging, possibly abusive, not protective.
  • Two recent public policy approaches to addressing Parent–child contact problems, Kayden’s Law and the NCJFCJ/AFCC’s joint statement are discussed.