In contested custody cases where a child rejects contact with a parent, the rejected parent often accuses the aligned parent of engaging in alienating behaviors that are intended to sever the attachment between the child and the rejected parent.
In what are usually highly contentious divorces or child custody disputes, the term "parental alienation" has been coined to describe what is a form of emotional abuse that occurs when one parent actively works to align their child with him/her to the exclusion of the other parent, without justification, resulting in the child's rejection of the estranged parent. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines alienation as "a withdrawing or separation of a person or a person's affections from an object or position of former attachment; estrangement." In cases involving parental alienation, there is destruction of a child's once positive relationship with both parents. As one parent poisons the child against the other, the child's affinity shifts to only one parent while he/she alienates or rejects the other.