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What is parental alienation?

Whilst there is no single definition, parental alienation is usually regarded as occurring when ‘a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent’.

Courts, solicitors and other professionals dealing with child contact cases have long been aware of parental alienation, though it is only relatively recently that its extent has been brought to the forefront. That said, there is no clear data as to just how prevalent parental alienation cases are.

Alienating behaviours can present themselves in a number of ways with varying effects on the children concerned. In its most extreme form, parental alienation can result in one parent systematically eroding the other parent from a child’s life.

When a child resists or refuses to spend time with one parent following a separation there could be a number of causes and it may not necessarily be as a result of parental alienation.

Parental alienation should not for instance be confused with a child who rejects a parent because they have been harmed by them, are frightened of them or because they have been affected by domestic abuse.

Cases featuring parental alienation are complex and require careful handling by the courts and all concerned.

Parental alienation can cause huge and significant emotional damage to children. Cases involving parental alienation are also incredibly upsetting and traumatic for the non-alienating parent and other members of the wider family such as grandparents.

Examples of parental alienation

Parental alienation can include a parent who is:

  • badmouthing or belittling the other parent;
  • highlighting errors of judgement;
  • rewriting history;
  • limiting contact;
  • forbidding free discussion about the other parent;
  • creating the impression that the other parent does not want to see the child or does not love and care for the child.

These actions may cause the child to feel rejected and create a false belief that the alienated parent is unworthy or even dangerous in some way.

The impact of parental alienation can be mild, moderate or severe. Mild may be where a child goes along with the plan of the alienating parent but is fine when they are alone with the alienated parent. Moderate may be where a child is indifferent or resistant to contact. In a severe case, a child may refuse to have any contact whatsoever with the alienated parent.

Recognising the signs and effects of parental alienation

In an extreme case, the signs may be obvious – it is unusual for a child who has previously enjoyed a loving relationship with a parent to suddenly not want to see or spend time with them for no reason.

In less extreme cases, parents will often feel and know that something is not right. They may feel that their child:

  • has changed
  • is withdrawing
  • is copying the other parent
  • is asking adult questions that are inappropriate
  • has no empathy
  • is always siding with the other parent
  • is not being reasonable
  • is being difficult
  • is making issues where there were none.

What to do if you are experiencing parental alienation

Parental alienation can take many forms and can sometimes be very subtle but often a parent ‘just knows’ they are being alienated.

If you are experiencing parental alienation, the below points should be of some help in the first instance:

  • Difficult as it might be, do not react angrily. This could just play into the hands of the alienating parent.
  • Do not under any circumstances punish or reprimand your child for the alienation, no matter how hurtful their actions – remember they are a victim just as you are.
  • Do consider all the circumstances – could there be some other explanation?
  • Do not sit back. Seek early advice and assistance.

The key is to recognise the signs and to deal with them quickly. If a parent is being alienated, then as more entrenched their views become, the more difficult it can be to find a way forward.

It is vital that early legal help is sought before the problem becomes severe causing lasting issues for the child/children concerned and damaging the parent and child relationship.

Parental alienation solicitors: how we can help

Our family lawyers can help with practical advice, early intervention can be crucial. We are happy to have an initial call with you in order to assess whether we are able to assist you and to discuss anticipated fees for our services.

We aim to support you and your children through the entire process and have extensive experience working with a range of other professionals who specialise in parental alienation including barristers, child and family therapists, mediators and child psychologists.

If necessary, we can assist with a Court application for a Child Arrangements Order. A Court application is likely to trigger Cafcass involvement. Cafcass, which stands for  Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, is well equipped to recognise and address cases of parental alienation. Cafcass represents children in family court cases in England who provide independent advice to the family courts about what is safe for children and in their best interests.

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