Take Notice: Information usually supplied by Oupa, is based on his opinion reading - The Constitution, Conventions, law, Case Law, Rules, Regulations and Standards in the Republic of Ireland only.

This document was circulated internationally for comment by professionals and is edited reflecting opinion and advice received.

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Parental Alienation Terminology

(Parent-Child Contact Problem)

Defined and/or brief descriptions

Andries (Oupa Joe) van Tonder
Revised 31 August 2022

In brief:

Resulting of the dicta and request by a Court in Ireland, I drafted a short terminology list referring to reports submitted to the court in July 2022. The list was introduced to the Court and it was well received and welcomed.

I decided to circulate it to the PASG members' list and some other groups and the reactions, 174 responses, were overwhelmingly positive. (Only 2 negative comments).

Many suggestions were added to the list and it was recirculated.

On 11 August 2022, a senior Director of the PASG suggested that I circulate this final draft version again to all the members of PASG for a response. This was done and the results were noted in this final version.

NB: In several jurisdictions, the term “parental alienation” is frowned upon or outright banned. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) also steered clear of this term in their “Joint Statement on parent-child contact problems”. The term “parental alienation” may need to be changed to “parent-child contact problem” or “P-CCP” in your jurisdiction.

This document:

Any Parental Alienation Knowledgeable person or Parental Alienation Professional should know and understand the terminology as listed.

The document “Definitions and terminology regarding child alignments, estrangement, and alienation: A survey of custody evaluators” by William Bernet MD, Amy J. L. Baker PhD and Kevin Lee Adkins II MA was published at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/1556-4029.14868 is included in this version, with suggested changes made.

Some parts of the definitions/descriptions used to date only referred to alienation in matters of separation or divorce. Quoting Bill Bernett of PASG: “I agree that PA is sometimes caused by individuals other than one of the parents, such as a grandparent, therapist, child protection worker, etc.” The established and recognised definitions and terminology in this document are changed to replace “preferred parent” or the like, with “alienating party” and “target parent” with “target parent or parents”.

Suggestions not implemented in this version

  1. Terminology based on religion

  2. Terminology interpretable as insulting or derogatory

  3. Profession- or character assassination

  4. The source or origin of each term listed as requested by one person

  5. Minor choice of words that I disagree with

  6. Terminology not yet in use

  7. IDC and DSM references.


Much of the content is based on terminology or definitions of other authors. This document is not for economical profit. I do not claim copyright on any part of this document.

You are welcome to republish this document with your banner. (Download the source here replacing “pdf” with “doc” in the address bar or copy the html version).

Abbreviations and other terminology

  1. Access refusal – see Contact Refusal
  2. ACEs – see Adverse Childhood Experiences
  3. Affected parent – See Target Parent.
  4. Alienated Parent - See Target Parent.
  5. Ammunition - refers to the silver bullet, golden bullet or Atomic bomb (Nuclear bomb)
  6. Antagonistic Aggressive Parenting - See Hostile Aggressive Parenting
  7. Alienated Parent- See Target Parent
  8. Alienating party - see alienating party
  9. AP -see alienating party
  10. Assessment tools - see Tools (Assessment)
  11. Atomic bomb - Allegations of sexual abuse by the target parent.
  12. Degrees of parental alienation – see Levels of severity
  13. ECAPA – See Emotional Child Abuse by Parental Alienation
  14. HAP - See Hostile Aggressive Parenting
  15. Obsessed Alienators – See Severe alienating behaviours
  16. PA – see Parental alienation
  17. PAK – see Parental Alienation Knowledgeable
  18. PAP – see Parental Alienation Professional
  19. PAS child – see Parental Alienation Sequela child
  20. Preferred parent – see Alienating party
  21. SAAID - see Sexual Abuse Allegations In Divorce
  22. SECCAID – see Slovak Extortion, Corruption, Child Abduction and International Disobedience.
  23. Silent treatment – see ghosting
  24. TP -See Target parent

General Terminology

  1. Abusive Parent:- refers to a parent proven in court and subsequently ruled to be abusive towards the child. This term is regularly used out of context referring to a target parent by uninformed parties and individuals discrediting the term "Parental Alienation".

  2. Access:- (Referring to child – or parent access or contact) - the means or opportunity to approach, communicate or otherwise have contact between a child and a parent.

    1. Absent Child Access:- Access to information about the child

    2. Absent Parent Access:- access to information and memorabilia of the parent

    3. Written Access:- access between the parent and the child – letters, SMS, social media etc.

    4. Voice Access:- access between the parent and the child – telephone or recorded voice

    5. Video Access:- access between the parent and the child – Direct or recorded video

    6. Palpable Access:- access between the parent where they can touch each other

    7. Parenting Time:- (see definition)

  3. Adverse Childhood Experiences:- (ACEs) can have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. (CDC)

  4. Adult Child of Alienation:- (also referred to as an Adult PAS Child) refers to an adult child of alienation

  5. Adultification:- occurs when an adult treats a child like he is more mature than he is, allowing making important decisions. It can have damaging effects. (See also parentification)

  6. Alienating behaviours:-

    1. PASG published definition (modified 08/2022): Alienating behaviours refer to the activities of the alienating party, which contribute to the child's unjustified contact refusal of the target parent such as: denigrating the target parent; limiting the child's contact with the target parent; allowing the child to choose between their parents or carers; creating the impression the target parent is dangerous and unloving; etc.

    2. General description:- Parental alienation has been described as a situation when a child’s resistance or hostility towards the target parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the alienating party.

    3. Simple definition:- Parental Alienating Behaviours are abuse and neglect that teach, encourage, or allow a child to hate, disrespect, dishonour, or abuse.

    4. Legal definition (June 2022-IEDC):- Parental Alienating Behaviours refer to acts of negligence and/or behaviours not inherent in lawful sanction directed towards preventing and/or disrupting the attachment bond between a child and its parent(s) or legal guardian(s).

      1. Parental Alienating Behaviours regularly cause the abandonment of the child by the target parent(s). This is an offence. Procuring and promoting abandonment is also an offence.

      2. The actions of the alienating party include, but are not limited to, hostile aggressive parenting, domestic violence by proxy (legal abuse), coercive control, false accusations, psychological manipulation, brainwashing, triangulation, enmeshment, and/or parentification. The mentioned actions are cruelty to children, causing serious harm, reckless endangerment of the child, and coercion.

      3. Parental Alienating Behaviours are not inherent in lawful sanction, therefore it is contrary to lawful sanction.

  7. Alienating Party:- is the party who is influencing the child—through the use of multiple alienating behaviours—to engage in unjustified contact refusal of the other parent or parents.

  8. Alienation by Proxy:- The authority to initiate or continue alienation on the command, authorisation or action of someone else.

  9. Alienation of affections:- a common law tort, abolished in many jurisdictions. Where it still exists, an action is brought by a spouse against a third party alleged to be responsible for damaging the marriage, most often resulting in divorce.

  10. Ammunition:- refers to the silver bullet, golden bullet or Atomic bomb/Nuclear Option

  11. Atomic bomb (Nuclear Option):- Usually referring to Sexual Abuse Allegations In Divorce

  12. Bird’s Nest Principle – a system in place in shared primary care where the children do not move from house to house during parenting time, but where the non-parenting parent vacates the house when the other parent has parenting time. (by agreement or court-ordered).

  13. Blowback (Parental alienation blowback):- the unintended adverse results of parental alienation on the alienating party when the truth of the matter comes to light.

  14. Borderless Boundaries (parental alienation):- is a form of adultification and/or parentification where the child decides on the boundaries.

  15. Breadcrumbing:- the act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal social signals (i.e. "breadcrumbs") in order to lure a romantic partner in without expending much effort. In other words, it's leading someone on. This is a subtle manipulation technique used to create a one-sided relationship.

  16. Child of parental alienation (sometimes wrongly referred to as a PAS Child):– is a child that is a victim of the act of parental alienation and can be a Targeted Child (TC) or Alienated Child (AC).

  17. Contact refusal:- refers to a child's resistance/rejection of contact and/or relationship with a parent. This is a broad concept that has several distinct possible underlying causes, including PA, estrangement, the child's preference, separation anxiety, and other family dynamics.

  18. Custodial interference:- refers to a party breaking court-determined custodial instructions. This can be as major as taking a child from the sole custodian or as minimal as calling a child more than directed.

  19. Domestic Violence by Proxy:- Emotional abuse that occurs in domestic and intimate partner violence when an abuser inflicts harm upon the victim through third parties.

  20. Eight behavioural manifestations of PA:- are the campaign of denigration against the rejected parent or parents; frivolous rationalizations for criticisms of that parent or parents; lack of ambivalence (seeing one parent or carer as all good and the other parent or parents as all bad); independent-thinker phenomenon; reflexive support of favoured parent or carer; absence of guilt; borrowed scenarios; and spread of animosity to rejected parent's extended family.

  21. Emotional Child Abuse by Parental Alienation (ECAPA):– is a term describing the effect of parental alienation as emotional child abuse. (Refer to the effects and outcomes of PA on the child).

  22. Enmeshment:- a relationship that lacked clear ego boundaries between family members which produced a form of fusion; a condition that interfered with the development of a clear sense of self apart from the family, while still being a part of the family.

  23. Encounter Session – refers to a 3-hour information session, designed to educate alienating parties (APs), target parents (TPs), relevant professionals, extended family and friends about the effects and outcomes of parental alienation on a child. (See flyer at http://oupajoe.ie/pa/Completed/Encounter_Info.pdf

  24. Estrangement - the fact of no longer being on friendly terms or part of a social group.

    1. Estrangement can occur between parents and children, siblings, other relatives and other friends and acquaintances.

    2. Family estrangement happens when contact is cut off between family members. It can last for long periods or go through cycles where there is intermittent communication and reconciliation. Often, apathy or antagonism are the driving factors for the distance. (APA Dictionary of Psychology. 2020)

  25. Five-Factor Model:- refers to a method for identifying PA by understanding the components of the problem. The Five-Factor Model includes the following criteria:

    1. Factor One: the child manifests contact refusal of a parent.

    2. Factor Two: the presence of a prior positive relationship between the child and the parent with whom the child is engaging in contact refusal.

    3. Factor Three: the absence of abuse or neglect or seriously deficient parenting on the part of the parent with whom the child is engaging in contact refusal.

    4. Factor Four: the use of multiple alienating behaviours on the part of the parent or carer with whom the child is aligned. For example, denigrating the other parent or parents; limiting the child's contact with the other parent or parents; allowing the child to choose between their parents/carers; creating the impression the other parent or parents are dangerous and unloving; etc.

    5. Factor Five: the presence of many or all of the eight behavioural manifestations of alienation by the child. That is, the campaign of denigration against the rejected parent or parents; frivolous rationalizations for criticisms of that parent or parents; lack of ambivalence (seeing one parent or carer as all good and the other parent or parents as all bad); independent-thinker phenomenon; reflexive support of favoured parent or carer; absence of guilt; borrowed scenarios; and spread of animosity to rejected parent's extended family

  26. Flying Monkeys:- People who are recruited by a party to do their dirty work. A person who is involved in a smear campaign to devalue a victim of said party. An individual who is a part of a group whose purpose is to sabotage someone. Usually a jealous coward.

    1. Note: During the process of alienation, flying monkeys may include a friend or family member of the alienating party, a teacher, a family lawyer, an untrained/unskilled family court judge, a custody evaluator, a guardian ad litem, a parenting coordinator or other family court operative.

  27. Folie a Deux:- Shared or Induced Delusional Disorder, i.e. where a child adopts the alienating party's view of the alienated/targeted parent(s).

  28. Gaslighting:- To manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their perspective, reality and sanity.

  29. Genetic Sexual Attraction:- is a term used to describe adults who meet for the first time and are attracted to each other, but who, without knowing, are related to each other by blood. For instance, a father who has never met his daughter may find himself physically attracted to her as an adult. There are several documented cases of siblings that were separated and adopted out. See also Oedipus complex and Westermarck effect.

  30. Ghosting:- The practice of ending communication with someone without any explanation. This is a form of emotional abuse. Ghosting causes trauma as it develops feelings of rejection and neglect. Social rejection by ghosting activates the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain, meaning there’s a biological link between rejection and pain.

  31. Golden bullet:- Allegations of an offence, or another action to permanently remove a target parent either by an extended prison sentence or even possible death.

  32. HAAS effect:- refers to the child stating “I am bad because my parent is bad”

  33. High-Conflict Models:- (referring to separation, co-parenting etc.) refer to proven models to follow in addressing high conflict. (Example: “Parallel Parenting: A High-Conflict Co-Parenting Model” by Mat Camp at https://mensdivorce.com/parallel-parenting-high-conflict/

  34. Hoovering:- A Hoover is a metaphor taken from the popular brand of vacuum cleaners, to describe how an abused victim trying to assert their rights by leaving or limiting contact in a dysfunctional relationship, gets “sucked back in” when the perpetrator temporarily exhibits improved or desirable behaviour.

  35. Hostile Aggressive Parenting:- (HAP) is interference by one parent or carer in a parent's (or guardian's) rights and responsibilities.

    1. Note: It can be characterized as a general example of conduct and control that is either straightforwardly or in a roundabout way. Such type of parenting makes undue challenges or impedances in the relationship of the child with someone else and creates a pointless clash with the other parent or parents, which antagonistically influences the raising of a child. PA is an outcome of HAP. Persons practising PA/HAP show one or more of the Cluster B personality disorders.

  36. Hybrid case:- refers to a family situation in which a child is strongly aligned with one parent or carer against the other parent or parents and the underlying explanation involves features of both alienation and estrangement.

  37. Intraspecies Predators:- refer to individuals who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, and violence to control others and satisfy their selfish needs

  38. Justified contact refusal:- refers to contact refusal due to a history of abuse, neglect, or severely deficient parenting. (NB. Justified contact refusal must never be backed up with parental alienation behaviours).

  39. Justified parental estrangement:- A situation agreed to or ordered by the court to protect the child e.g. serious psychiatric condition or criminal behaviour, history of abuse, neglect, or severely deficient parenting. (NB. Justified parental estrangement must never be backed up with parental alienation behaviours).

  40. Last Parental Obligation:- a term regarding transportation. The system of how the child or children are transported between parents for parenting time.

    1. Note: That parent who has physical time with the child has, as his/her last parental duty, the obligation to transport the child to the other parent. It has value for young children who sometimes express a wish not to leave one parent to go see the other parent. This system lets the child see that one parent approves of the child seeing the other.

  41. Levels of severity of alienating behaviours:- (mild/moderate/severe) are based on the intensity, frequency, and a number of the alienating parent or carer's activities:

    1. Mild alienating behaviours: These parents or carers engage in the occasional use of one or two alienating behaviours with no serious intent to undermine or interfere with the child's relationship with the other parent. They may be referred to as “naive alienators.”

    2. Moderate alienating behaviours: These parents or carers often engage in several alienating behaviours and there is resistance to correcting or modifying their activities. They may be referred to as “active alienators.”

    3. Severe alienating behaviours: These parents or carers persistently and frequently engage in many alienating behaviours and there is no willingness or ability to modify or correct their activities. They may seem determined to destroy the child's relationship with the other parent or parents. These parents or carers may be referred to as “obsessed alienators.”

  42. Levels of severity of the child's unjustified contact refusal (PA):- (mild/moderate/severe) are based on the behaviours of the child.

    1. Mild PA means that the child engages in infrequent, unjustified contact refusal of the alienated parent or parents, and usually enjoys that parent or parents once parenting time is underway.

    2. Moderate PA means that the child usually engages in unjustified contact refusal of the alienated parent or parents and is oppositional during parenting time, although there are times of positive contact and connection between the child and the alienated parent or parents.

    3. Severe PA means that the child persistently and adamantly engages in unjustified contact refusal of the alienated parent or parents. The child may have actual parenting time and still be considered severe if the child persistently states a wish to avoid a relationship with that parent or parents.

  43. Maladaptive Reaction (Vulnerable child):- is the reaction that prevents the child from making adjustments that are in his own best interest. In cases of parental alienation, the effects and outcomes for the child are well researched.

  44. Medea Action:- When Medea Complex realised.

  45. Medea Complex:- refer to a mother’s wish to kill her children as a means of revenge against the father.

  46. Narcissistic abuse syndrome:- a psychological outcome that occurs when a person has been living with or spending a significant amount of time with a narcissist

  47. Negging:- a subtle form of emotional manipulation (abuse) by the twisted utterance of questions, remarks or comments

  48. Oedipus complex:- refer to a sexual desire that a child normally feels toward the parent of the opposite sex, along with jealous feelings toward the parent of the same sex. (Sigmund Freud). See also Genetic Sexual Attraction and Westermarck effect.

  49. Offences:- a breach of a law or rule; an illegal act.

  50. Overburdened Child:- is a negative psychological outcome when the child is caused to be emotionally involved with adult matters

  51. Parental alienation:- is one type of contact refusal when a child- typically whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict separation or divorce – or when a child is separated from both parents and is in the care of a person other than one of the parents, allies strongly with one parent or the carer and resists and rejects contact and/or relationship (i.e., contact refusal) with the other parent or parents without legitimate justification. PA refers to the actions and attitudes manifested by the child. PA is brought on by the alienating behaviours of the parent or carer with whom the child is aligned.

  52. Parental Alienation Charlatan:- a person falsely claiming to have an expert or professional knowledge regarding parental alienation, knowing that he/she is not qualified, certified or grandparented as a parental alienation expert, professional or knowledgeable person recognised to join a parental alienation professional register in the local jurisdiction.

  53. Parental Alienation Expert:- A multi-qualified Parental Alienation Professional that can address, according to laid down criteria of the jurisdiction, 4 or more aspects of parental alienation, referring, but not limited to, medical, legal, support, child protection, education, law enforcement, therapy and more.

  54. Parental Alienation Knowledgeable (PAK):- A person other than a professional as listed, that has proven his/her knowledge and understanding of parental alienation, either by the successful completion of a certificate qualification recognised in the jurisdiction or otherwise recognised as such.

  55. Parental Alienation Professional (PAP):- A professional that has proven his/her knowledge and understanding of parental alienation either by successful completion of a postgraduate qualification recognised in the jurisdiction or, otherwise recognised as such by at least three existing PAP peers and is registered with a recognised relevant professional accrediting organisation or honourably discharged or retired from said position.

  56. Parental Alienation Sequela child:- (not syndrome) – when a child exhibits two or more negative psychological effects attributable to the act of alienation

  57. Parental estrangement:- Estranged from a parent(s).

  58. Parental rejection:- The withdrawal of affection, love or warmth by the child toward their parent(s). It includes three major forms (Rohner & Rohner, 1975).

  59. Parentification:- A process of role reversal whereby a child is obliged to act as a parent to his or her parent. (See also adultification).

  60. Parenting time:- Refers to the time when a parent and a child can actively act as parent and child e.g. communicate, learn, play, act, and serve together. This is an extension to access time. (“Sleepover access” is actually “parenting time”)

  61. Passive aggression:- refers to indirect blame-shifting, sabotage, and sarcasm in an attempt to manipulate

  62. Pathogenic parenting:- (Poisonous parenting) – Parental Alienating Behaviours exhibited.

  63. Piranha action: – (also piranha parenting, piranha separation etc.) Entering into, or ending a relationship having, showing or pursuing an intense and selfish desire for wealth or power.

  64. Psychological abuse:- Inappropriate verbal or symbolic acts and includes failures to provide adequate non-physical nurturing or emotional availability. Psychological abuse includes rejecting, ignoring, isolating, terrorising, corrupting, verbally abusing and belittling a child as well as witnessing family violence which exposes a child to damage caused by a family member’s violent behaviour.
  65. Psychological Manipulation:- The use of means to exploit, control, or otherwise influence others to one’s advantage. In the extreme, it is a stratagem of tricksters, swindlers, and impostors who disrespect moral principles and take advantage of others’ frailty and gullibility. At the very least, manipulation is influence used to gain control, benefits, or privileges at the expense of others.

  66. Psychological splitting:- is the defence in the child which causes an ego split (how the child identifies their internal sense of who they are) which is then projected outwards at the parent. What causes this is the behaviours of a parent who influences or pressures a child either consciously or unconsciously. What underpins those behaviours are power and control dynamics over the child.

  67. Sabotage (Toxic separation):- the deliberate action aimed at weakening a target parent through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction.

  68. Sadistic Separation:- when a party derives pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on the other.

  69. Sexual Abuse Allegations In Divorce:- Child sexual abuse allegations arising during divorce and custody conflicts. Most professionals believe that the highest percentage of false allegations occurs in this circumstance.

  70. Scapegoating:- is a narcissistic manipulation placing all the blame on one person, usually a child, they designate as a scapegoat.

  71. Silver bullet:- Allegations of an offence committed by the target parent to hurt or partly eliminate said parent.

  72. Slovak Extortion, Corruption, Child Abduction and International Disobedience (SECCAID):- is a term that evolved, outlining the problems to overcome when a child is abducted and transported to Slovakia.

  73. spit in the street” - or “jaywalking” enforced prosecution – Compelled on the spot fine or prosecution for any alleged offence committed. No warning.

  74. Stockholm syndrome:- a coping mechanism to a captive or abusive situation. People develop positive feelings toward their captors or abusers over time. This condition applies to situations including child abuse, coach-athlete abuse, relationship abuse and sex trafficking. Treatment includes psychotherapy (“talk therapy”) and medications if needed.

  75. Suitably competent child - A child who has sufficient training, experience, knowledge or understanding and other qualities.

  76. Target Parent:- a birth or adopted parent of the child involved, targeted for alienation, with whom the child is engaging in unjustified contact refusal

  77. Tools – (Assessment):- Recognised medical, psychological, law enforcement, legal, child protection, human rights and more checklists, questionnaires, guidelines and tools to assess the child and/or the target parent and/or the alienating party.

  78. Triangulation:- Someone using this tactic will try to pull a third person into your conflict, typically to reinforce their own opinion or position.

    1. Note: When the child is triangulated between their two parents, creating a cross-generational coalition. The coalition with the child serves as a vessel for the pathogenic parent to express their anger toward the targeted parent. The pathogenic parenting practices eventually cause the child to reject the targeted parent.

  79. Unholy alliance:- an alliance which is perceived as unnatural, unusual, or simply undesirable. between seemingly antagonistic parties. In Parental alienation it refers to the phenomenon of a child's strident rejection of one parent, generally accompanied by strong resistance or refusal to visit or have anything to do with that parent. (Wallerstein and Kelly 1976, 1980)

  80. Westermarck effect:- (reverse sexual imprinting), is a hypothetical psychological effect through which people who live in close domestic proximity during the first few years of their lives become desensitized to later sexual attraction. The Westermarck effect is an aspect of human evolution that works on a subconscious level to prevent humans from engaging in inbreeding. (Edvard Westermarck). See also Genetic Sexual Attraction and Oedipus complex.

See also “Top 100 Traits & Behaviors of Personality-Disordered Individuals” at https://outofthefog.website/traits

- oOo -