Parental alienation: What is it and what can I do about it?

    Parental alienation: What is it and what can I do about it?

    What is parental alienation?

    Parental alienation involves the psychological manipulation of a child by one parent against the other, without any justifiable good reason. Children then demonstrate animosity towards a parent with whom they once had a loving relationship.

    The concept of parental alienation is complex. It can involve contributions from both parents to a psychological vulnerability within a child. It’s worth noting that it is not always a deliberate campaign of denigration of one parent by the other to the child.

    Often, there are allegations that one parent has poisoned or manipulated the child against the other parent. Parental alienation can involve a parent making derogatory remarks about the other parent to the child, to the more severe types of false allegations that the other parent has harmed the child physically or sexually.

    Such manipulation of a child is a form of emotional abuse. Although it may not be immediately obvious, long-term emotional harm can be caused if these types of cases are not challenged.

    It’s not always parental alienation

    Sometimes there are very real reasons for one parent to object to contact taking place. If a parent has a justifiable reason as to why contact is not safe for a child, then it is not alienation. However, clear advice is needed to ascertain this.

    It can be a slow process and requires an experienced expert to spot what is a true justified reason for denying contact and what is actually alienation. Sometimes a hearing might be needed to determine the truth of allegations made.

    It is essential that effective advice and support is available to parents in these cases. This is so that there is no wrong labelling of a parent and the real risks to children can be identified and assessed.

    What can I do about parental alienation?

    There is hope for parents denied contact by the other parent who has alienated the child from them and they are being refused a relationship with them.

    Likewise, parents who believe their child is at risk from the other parent are offered hope by a new initiative. This is valuable for those who require expert help to ensure the real risk is identified and assessed so they are not wrongly labelled as manipulating the child to their own ends.

    CAFCASS (the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) has been piloting a project to give parents intense therapy to change their behaviour. This is in cases where parental manipulation of a child is identified. If therapy is refused or unsuccessful then the ultimate sanction of the courts is given: transferring residence of the child (which parent a child should live with) to the other parent.

    How can I prevent parental alienation?

    Sadly, you can’t prevent parental alienation. All you can do is act if you are being prevented from having contact with your child.

    It is important to not allow too much time to elapse. Be proactive and talk to a lawyer at an early stage about your concerns so that action can be taken to protect your child.

    Resolution gives details of specialist lawyers in children cases. This includes Porter Dodson’s Samantha Smith, who is a specialist children lawyer accredited by Resolution.

    Two examples of parental alienation cases

    Child A

    Recently, following an 8-year court case, a father ended his legal fight to secure contact with his children.

    The Judge, HHJ Wildblood QC, concluded that the mother had alienated the children from their father. The father was said to have plainly loved his children but the children would not acknowledge him and had false memories about him and his behaviour.

    They refused to have anything to do with him or his side of the family. This is in spite of no professional having suggested him unsuitable to have contact with his children and despite consistent recommendations over 8 years from professionals that contact should be taking place between the children and their father.

    The Judge said blame for the situation lay squarely with the mother. A psychiatrist had concluded that she had allowed and/or encouraged the demonisation of the father, which the Judge concluded would result in the children suffering significant and long-term emotional harm.

    The mother had failed to act in the best interests of her children in failing to promote a relationship between the children and their father.

    Child H

    In contrast, in a different case, Mr Justice Keehan ordered a transfer of residence of a 12-year-old child who had been living with his mother to instead live with his father. This was following 12 years of court proceedings throughout the child’s life.

    The mother had alienated the child. He said parental alienation was very harmful to a child and skews the child’s ability to form relationships in the future. He balanced the short-term trauma of a change of living with the mother to the father and concluded the absence of the father from the child’s life would cause more emotional and social harm. 

    Do you need any help?

    It is important to act at an early stage, before it is too late, when alienating behaviours become apparent. Cases involving allegations of parental alienation require skilled and experienced professional involvement. This includes the use of experts trained in the area of parental alienation and implacable hostility.

    Our Family Law Team is skilled at identifying where this may be an issue and exploring effective ways forward. We can give you clear, robust advice and intervention from the start. This is key to succeeding in a successful, child-focused outcome.

    For more information, please contact one of the family lawyers in our Children Team who would be happy to advise you.

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