Attachment and Bonding


  1. As a result of the latest brain scans, bonding can no longer be referred to as merely psychological.
  2. Clear evidence has emerged suggesting that brain structure is not simply genetically determined. Trillions of new connections between neurons are rapidly formed in the first five years. These synaptic links are reflected overtly as memes which represent learned ways of thinking and doing things.

Appellate Courts Recognize Bonding in Deciding Child Placement

While courts may have traditionally favored genetics over the emotional and psychological bonds, an increasing number of jurisdictions have begun to shift that stance to better serve the child’s best interests. Though the consideration is far from universal, courts are taking note of the significant impact that maintaining or breaking those bonds can have.

Bonding is Real

Reviewing the recent research on early brain development, we became excited about the fact that synaptic connections certainly included the tangible aspects of day-to-day child care and the formation and strengthening of child/parent relationships.

The Physical Counterpart of Bonding

Over the last several years, one study after another has demonstrated that there is more to brain development than heredity. A newborn's brain is remarkably unfinished. Most of its 100 billion neurons have not yet partnered in pathways. A neuron is a brain cell that processes and transmits information through specialized connections with other cells called synapses. The synapse is a communication point between two cells. Neurons are the core components of the nervous system, which include the brain and spinal cord.


Careless use of the word “bonding” has led to several myths. These myths are based on a confusion and blurring of the boundary between an attachment and a SIGNIFICANT attachment.

Myth: A “good bonder” can bond easily and repeatedly. Wrong. Clearly, this myth reflects a superficial attachment, and represents a misuse of the word.

Why is Bonding So Important?

Bonding is a very strong attachment, but it is much more than an intense emotional feeling. The term “bonding” is best used to describe the tipping point, that line or point in a relationship that suggests that the attachment has passed the line whereby its disruption may precipitate significant harm, either immediately or later. According to the research, the odds have been significantly raised that the child will experience problems with mental health, criminal behavior, homelessness, and other serious life problems.

What is Bonding?

The dictionary defines a bond as a “unique relationship between two people enduring for long periods, even a lifetime.” Bonding must be practically defined in ways the court can accept and understand. After an extensive review of the literature, we offer this definition:

“Bonding is a significant reciprocal attachment which both parties want and expect to continue, and which is interrupted or terminated at considerable peril to the parties involved.”

Brain Research Supports Bonding

By James Kenny, PhD, Peter Kenny, Esq., and Steve Egan

Bonding has too often been loosely defined. Mental health professionals, in their reports, have been vague and fuzzy, offering generalizations rather than facts, opinion rather than data. As a result, courts and case managers may not have given bonding the critical consideration it deserves.