How does Washington law address parental alienation?

Understanding Parental Alienation in Washington State

Parental alienation is a concerning phenomenon that has garnered increasing attention in family law. In Washington State, the matter is taken seriously, with the law addressing it through various statutes and court decisions aimed at safeguarding the child's best interests. Parental alienation occurs when one parent manipulates a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect, or hostility towards the other parent. This behavior can severely impact the child's emotional well-being and the alienated parent's rights.

Custody and Visitation Rights

In Washington, when determining custody and visitation rights, courts are guided by RCW 26.09.191, which outlines restrictions on a parent's residential time with their child. Evidence of parental alienation could lead to a finding that the alienating parent is engaging in behavior detrimental to the child. Such findings can influence custody arrangements to ensure that the child's psychological and emotional needs are met while maintaining a healthy relationship with both parents.

Legal Recourse for Alienated Parents

Alienated parents have several legal avenues to address parental alienation. They can seek court-ordered family therapy or modifications to parenting plans under RCW 26.09.260 if there is a significant change in circumstances, including evidence of alienation. In severe cases, courts can even change primary residential custody to protect the child from further psychological harm.

Historical References

Historically, Washington courts have recognized the adverse effects of parental alienation. In In re Marriage of Littlefield, 133 Wn.2d 39 (1997), the Washington Supreme Court acknowledged that attempts by one parent to undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent could factor into custody decisions.


Washington law recognizes parental alienation as a significant issue that can affect custody and visitation rights. Courts are empowered to take necessary actions to prevent further damage to children and ensure that parenting plans serve the best interests of the child. As such, it is crucial for parents experiencing this form of manipulation to seek legal assistance promptly.