Longtime California Family Lawyer Says ‘Parental Alienation’ Laws Under Increased Scrutiny in Light of Recent Cases 

Alphonse Provinziano says lawmakers, courts revisiting longtime psychological theory

California family lawyer Alphonse Provinziano says lawmakers and judges are revisiting the controversial psychological theory of “parental alienation” amid high-profile cases that involve claims of abuse.

The notion holds that a parent can influence children to reject the other parent or even make false claims of abuse. Critics say that it is being used improperly to make custody and visitation decisions that can put children at risk.

“Recent reporting about problems with ‘parental alienation’ claims has raised new concerns in the field of family law,” said Alphonse Provinziano, who is founder of Los Angeles-based Provinziano & Associates and a certified family law specialist. “Every state should revisit how its statutes handle parental alienation to see if new legislation is warranted to better protect against abusive practices.”

Colorado recently enacted a law restricting child treatment programs after reporting by ProPublica revealed some that rely on claims of parental alienation syndrome were using threats, physical restraint and removal of access to food and clothing against children.

In California, parental alienation claims may be used to change custody or visitation agreements or require reconciliation counseling to re-establish a relationship with the estranged parent.

A brother and sister in Santa Cruz gained national attention earlier this month after a parental alienation claim led to a judge’s order that they attend a treatment program.

Provinziano said that claims of abuse in California are usually handled through psychological evaluations from licensed psychologists in individual sessions, which can be time-consuming and costly. Private evaluators typically spend as much as 40 hours meeting with both the child and parents, while county-funded psychologists will do briefer evaluations ranging from 40 minutes to four hours. It can take as long as a year or two to resolve these kinds of cases, he said.

“Parental alienation claims should not be used to undercut credible allegations of abuse in a family law courtroom,” added Provinziano. “However, states should take a careful look at how they are handling these types of claims to make sure all parties are being considered and it’s in the best interest of the child caught in the middle.”