Purpose 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.
Method 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.
Results 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.
Conclusions 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.