The COVID-19 lockdowns severed many families, where they found themselves having a limited period to decide who would live where and with whom. In other instances, it cemented the divide which already existed for the non-custodial parent. Post-COVID lockdowns some parents still find themselves in a tug-of war over the children despite custody agreements.

There are cases where the levels of conflict between the parents cause emotional harm to the children. In extreme cases a child manifest unjustified hostility towards one parent as the result of psychological manipulation by the other.

Not much has been done to officially recognise parental alienation in South African courts. Nevertheless the law advocates for the best interests of the child in terms of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. This includes the child being raised in a peaceful and loving environment free from abuse and ill treatment. Parental alienation destroys this environment. There are a number of cases in which mothers, and sometimes fathers, have lost custody of their children after being accused of “parental alienation”.


In a recent book chapter I took a closer look at the psychological effects of parental alienation. I further unpacked the civil remedies available for an affected parent. And proposed that parents in this situation have a valid claim for emotional distress and harm.

Parental alienation is a recurring problem that affects many families who are experiencing high conflict, separation and divorce. Parental alienation can be defined as a process whereby one parent undermines the child’s previously intact relationship with the other parent.

It creates a situation where the alienating parent teaches the child to reject the other parent, to fear the parent and to avoid having contact with that parent.

Parental alienation is a global problem. For example in 2010 Brazil criminalised parental alienation.

What is the impact?

Parental alienation has emotional consequences – for the adults involved as well as for the children.

When a parent’s conduct leads a child rejecting the other parent, the alienated parent’s emotional response usually includes a sense of powerlessness and frustration, stress, loss, grief, anger, fear and feelings of pain, anxiety, deficiency, humiliation and being unloved.


Ultimately, the alienated parent experiences the anguish of the loss of a child causing immense mental pain and suffering. This is similar to loss and is combined with the continuing concern for the child.

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