What is the difference between parental alienation and estrangement?

Parental alienation and estrangement are both forms of resist-refuse dynamics that involve difficulties in parent-child relationships. Understanding the differences between the two is important for addressing family dynamics appropriately.

Parental Alienation:

  • Definition: Parental alienation involves one parent actively and intentionally manipulating a child to reject or harbour negative feelings toward the other parent.
  • Intent: Typically involves one parent engaging in behaviours designed to alienate the child from the other parent. The intention of these behaviours is to restrict or interfere with the child’s relationship with the targeted parent, exclude that parent from the child’s life, reconfigure the family according to the alienating parent’s intent, and punish or hurt the targeted parent using the child.
  • Dynamics: Parental alienating behaviours are validated and identifiable actions and narratives that result in hallmark parental alienating presentations in children. The Five-Factor Model is a validated methodology for assessing parental alienating behaviours and how they result in parental alienation in children 
  • Resolution: Addressing parental alienation may require legal intervention, mediation, specialist remediation, reversal of parental care and responsibility to the targeted parent, and exclusion of the alienating parent until they meet reportable behaviour change goals.


  • Definition: Estrangement refers to a situation where there is a voluntary and justified distancing or breakdown in the relationship between a parent and a child. It can occur for various reasons, such as conflicts, misunderstandings, unresolved issues, neglect, family violence or sexual abuse.
  • Intent: Unlike parental alienation, estrangement doesn’t necessarily involve one parent actively working to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent.
  • Dynamics: Estrangement can be mutual, with the parent and the child choosing to distance themselves from each other. 
  • Resolution: Resolving estrangement often requires open communication, empathy, and efforts from both parties to understand and address the issues that led to the estrangement. Professional counselling may be beneficial to facilitate these conversations.

In summary, while both parental alienation and estrangement involve challenges in parent-child relationships, parental alienation is characterised by one parent intentionally undermining the child’s relationship with the other parent. On the other hand, estrangement refers to a voluntary distancing or breakdown in the relationship that may be mutual and result from various factors. The approaches to addressing and resolving these issues may differ based on the underlying dynamics and causes.