Parental Alienation: what can you do about it?

While there is no single definition of Parental Alienation, according to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), it is recognised as being when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. It can result in a child becoming estranged from one parent – perhaps even the wider family – and it can have a devastating impact on those who experience it.

If you are affected by any of the issues outlined here, please do get in touch today. We are here to help.

The Family Courts are witnessing an increasing number of cases whereby one parent has attempted to, or has perhaps successfully, alienated their child(ren) from the other parent. Parental alienation may take many different forms, including, but not limited to:

  • discussing inappropriate/sensitive adult topics in front of a child, for example relationship issues between the two parents, perhaps divulging an affair or instances of unreasonable behaviour
  • not allowing the child to see their other parent, or actively dissuading them from doing so
  • insisting the child’s personal belongings are kept at their house
  • planning tempting activities to take place during the other parent’s contact
  • frequently breaking or bending contact arrangements
  • controlling the other parent’s contact with the child, such as monitoring phone calls or text messages, or even insisting contact must be supervised when there are no grounds for this
  • gossiping with the child about the other parent, or perhaps the parent’s new partner

Parental Alienation is now of growing interest to Family Law and Social Work sectors, with some psychologists even coining the phrase ‘parental alienation syndrome’, to describe the symptoms of children who have been exposed to this form of manipulation by their parent.

Some of the symptoms of parental alienation may manifest themselves in a variety of behaviours in the child, such as:

  • fear, hostility, or disrespect towards the distant parent
  • the child constantly criticising the alienated parent, with no strong evidence or justifications for doing so
  • the child having overwhelmingly negative feelings towards the alienated parent – in the sense that these feelings are not ‘mixed’
  • the child having unwavering support of the alienator
  • the child using terms and phrases that seem to be borrowed from adult language
  • the child does not feel guilty about mistreating or hating the alienated parent

If you find that your child is displaying some, or all, of these behaviours towards you or another family member, naturally you will be worried – these are tricky waters to navigate. But there is support out there. The Chief Executive of CAFCASS describes parental alienation as “undoubtedly a form of neglect or child abuse”. There is a considerable amount of research to back up the belief that such alienation is a long-term harm to the child, as he or she grows up around high levels of unresolved conflict and moreover, for a child to not have a relationship with both parents whilst growing up.

The Court takes a tough stance against Parental Alienation, as the overriding view is that it is in the child’s best interests to have an ongoing relationship with both parents. At the heart of every decision made by the Family Court is what course of action is in the best interests of the child.

If you or your ex does resort to taking a case to Court, the judge will assess all the behaviours and factors, including whether it is safe and in the best interests of the child to have contact with one or both parents, the child’s resilience and vulnerabilities and more. The judge will then make a decision about what contact the child will have with either parent.

Keeping lines of communication open between the separated parents is key, and putting your child first, no matter how challenging you may find your ex, is also central to the well-being of that child.

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