Parental Alienation in the U.S. Military

by Michael Conzachi, Board of Directors, Save Our Heroes’ Project

Parental Alienation. What is it?

There have been strong misconceptions and opinions as to what parental alienation is, but parents who have been affected can unequivocally tell you that it is real. This post will attempt to provide the reader with some knowledge and location of resources, in the unfortunate attempt that a parent is experiencing this dynamic.

In fact, parental alienation is so pervasive that April 25th has been designated Parental Alienation Awareness Day.

Parental alienation is simply the dynamic of one parent eviscerating a child’s relationship with the other parent and is most commonly found in family law cases. I don’t profess to be an expert on parental alienation, but in common sense terms, it is not that hard to understand, and I have provided a number of resources for affected parents to educate themselves.

This has been problematic for many of the falsely accused and wrongfully convicted service members and their families who have contacted us since our inception. The parental alienation dynamic is sometimes more acute in the military as many couples going through a high conflict divorce came from different states and even different countries.

Further exacerbating the problem are deployments and reassignments that separate parents from their children. Still yet, parental alienation cannot be found anywhere in the literature for the Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program. A plethora of abuse descriptors are listed but parental alienation, the emotional and psychological abuse of children is not.

Parental alienation is not officially listed as a psychological disorder in words per se, but the description of the dynamic is included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Psychological Disorders (DSM-V): well almost.

Essentially it is described as a broad category of “child psychological abuse,” defined as

non-accidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child.

Dr. William Bernet M.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, who leads the Parental Alienation Study Group whose members are dedicated to educating clinicians, social workers and other frontline professionals stated, “Even though it does not go quite as far as we’d hoped, I’m very happy that this new terminology is in the DSM-5.”

Critics claim that there is insufficient scientific data available to make such a diagnosis, however, significant research began in the 1950’s and in earnest in the 1980’s until the present day.

There are a number of organizations and support groups including the Parental Alienation Study Group and the International Support Network for Alienated Families, to name a few. There are also a number of dedicated medical and psychological professionals who have tirelessly worked and researched parental alienation including Dr. Bernet, Dr. Amy Baker, PhD, and Dr. J. Michael Bone PhD to name a few.

There are no quantitative statistics available and both genders engage in alienating behavior. Experts opine however, that access to children is one leading factor that allows for time to develop alienating behaviors in children. Historically, mothers are awarded custody in about 85% of family law proceedings, and therefore, the data suggests that more mothers engage in alienating behavior. The gender is not the issue but rather the time, exposure, and alienating behaviors forced upon the child are the issue.

The lack of specific data is not by accident and there are some in the psychological and medical fields that don’t agree with the concept of parental alienation however the biggest and loudest voice in opposition to parental alienation is the National Organization for Women.

Since the symptomology describing parental alienation was included in the latest edition of the DSM-V (2013), the National Organization for Women began lobbying the American Psychiatric Association in 2012, calling parental alienation “junk science.” On NOW’s website of accomplishments, they proudly proclaim,

This so-called psychiatric condition is being used in child custody cases to remove custody from protective parents (usually mothers) and often awarding custody to an abusive parent (usually fathers).

Unfortunately, many legislators and members of the judiciary tend to side with NOW’s radical position, and capitulate to their demands, lest being ridiculed and called sexist or misogynistic. False allegations of abuse, sexual abuse or domestic violence in family law proceedings, usually incur no sanctions even when the false allegations and lies are exposed.

What is important here is that affected parents educate themselves on what parental alienation is, how to identify it and where to get help and find resources.

For service members facing false allegations or some type of unjust military justice or administrative action in the midst of a high conflict divorce, the stress can sometimes be overwhelming. Affected service member parents, whether they are moms or dads, need to arm themselves with information to better cope with the potential loss of a child or children through the emotional child abuse of parental alienation.

Hope is not lost as some family court judges are becoming more inclined to listen to parents who have been affected and a number of parental alienation specialists are providing information resources and assistance to affected parents in family court settings.

Below are a number of resources for affected parents, and many other resources are available via a simple Google search of parental alienation.

Resources / Links

Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry Law 41:98 –104, 2013 Parental Alienation, DSM-5, and ICD-11: Response to Critics William Bernet, MD, and Amy J. L. Baker, PhD

National Parents Organization, “Limited Definition Of Parental Alienation Syndrome Included In DSM-V,” 2013,

Parental Alienation Study Group,

International Support Network for Alienated Families,

Dr. William Bernet, M.D.,

Dr. J. Michael Bone PhD, Parental Alienation & Consultant,

National Association of Parental Alienation Specialists

Dr. Amy J.L. Baker, PhD,

Stand Up for Gus Foundation,

National Parents Organization,

“False Protection Orders To Enable Parental Alienation is Child Abuse,”
Lurleen Hilliard, Chief Operations Officer at Tarantino Productions LLC

National Organization for Women,