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Findings of Abuse in Families Affected by Parental Alienation

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Parental alienating behaviors (PABs) are conceptualized by scholars as a form of family violence. Nonetheless, some critics have argued that it is the parent that is claiming to be the target of PABs that is the abusive parent. We explored this debate by comparing claims of abuse made against alienating and alienated parents. We predicted that perpetrators of PABs would have a history of co-occurring forms of abuse as part of a pattern of coercive control.


Trained coders, unaware of the study’s pre-registered hypotheses, identified claims of abuse from 492 US appellate case reports in which parental alienation was found to have occurred. Allegations of abuse were raised in 58.54% (288) of these cases, with 1,112 separate claims of abuse raised overall.


Parents who were found to have alienated their child(ren) by the court or a court-appointed professional had an 81.62% greater probability of having a substantiated claim of abuse against them, than parents alienated from their children. Moreover, alienated parents had an 86.05% greater likelihood of having an unsubstantiated abuse claim made against them compared to alienating parents.


These findings lend support to the theory that PABs are part of a pattern of coercively controlling abuse. These behaviours must be recognized and addressed to ensure victims of abuse are provided with appropriate protection and treatment.

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  1. We had 3 additional hypotheses in our pre-registration that we did not have space to describe in this paper. Data, syntax, output, and written results testing these hypotheses may be found on our OSF page.

  2. We also ran this analysis with parents and third parties. Our effect for alienating parents did not change in a meaningful way and our odds ratio was decreased to 4.28. We also ran this analysis including situations where a restraining or protection order was granted and our effect for alienating parents did not change in a meaningful way, but our odds ratio was increased to 4.53. Finally, we ran the analysis using a negative binomial model because although our pre-registered analysis plan did not state this, upon coding the data it was apparent it was 0 inflated. Our data showed the same pattern of results, but our odds ratio for alienating parents was reduced to 2.30. Importantly, we were not able to account for the nesting in our data when using the negative binomial model. All data and syntax are available on OSF for anyone that wishes to reproduce these results or further explore this data.

  3. This analysis deviated from our original pre-registered analysis as we were not originally going to look at the gender of the parent making the allegation. The syntax and output for the original pre-registered output are available on the osf page, We ran this model without gender of accusing parent, and the main effect found that alienated parents were more likely to have an unsubstantiated claim against them that was slightly reduced than the results reported in the results, OR = 4.63.


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The authors would like to thank the many undergraduate research assistant coders who were involved with the project: Andrew Wilmont, Davien Torres, Alondra Faudoa, Savannah Abbott, Akshira Weiser, Kylie Morse, Lauren Quintana, Maddie Foster, Alexander Van Sertima, Megan Keller, Emily Story, Jedediah Knode, Simone Yin, Tayla Wilson, Katie Regan, Ellie Stavropoulos, Lindsay Walker, Jordyn Alturafi, Amelia Hadad, andBreanna King. Finally, we would like to thank the law office and PsychLaw team coders: Bruce Bielawa, Shamara Boines, Raphael Dominguez, Gabriel Hinman, LeAnn Scott, and Sarah Vasquez as well as PsychLaw research attorney Melissa Blevins and paralegal Elle Murphree. No external funding was received for this project. All project materials for this study are available on Open Science Framework:

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Correspondence to Amanda E. Sharples.

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Sharples, A.E., Harman, J.J. & Lorandos, D. Findings of Abuse in Families Affected by Parental Alienation. J Fam Viol (2023).

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