What is parental alienation? How can you tackle it?

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Parental alienation is where one parent poisons their child against the other parent.

It is not a recognised syndrome in England and Wales, however it is accepted that where there is a hostile separation one parent can act in a way that alienates a child from the other parent.

It is always best for parents to try and manage their separation in a way that prevents difficulties arising. Using professionals such as family consultants, therapists, mediators and/or an arbitrator can help parents achieve this. However, unfortunately in some cases where serious steps of alienation present themselves, court proceedings may be necessary sooner rather than later as the longer matters are left the more risk there is for irrevocable emotional damage to be caused to the child and their relationship with their family.

Courts are starting to be more rigorous when it comes to the case management of uncooperative parents, to try and limit children from the toxic conflict that can arise in lengthy court processes.

The characteristics of parental alienation

Concerns of parental alienation arise where a child does not want to spend time with a parent yet there is no obvious or logical reason as to why they don’t want to see their parent.

In some cases a parent can be constantly criticizing the other parent in front of the child to turn them against their other parent. Parental alienation can, however, also be very subtle and it is not always deliberate.

It can be difficult to identify what the child’s actual beliefs are, as they become so heavily aligned with the parent who is causing the alienation.

The impact of parental alienation

The impact of alienation on a child is devastating, as is the impact on the parent the child is being isolated from – as well as the wider family. A child’s development can be adversely affected as a result.

What the Court can do about parental alienation?

If court proceedings are issued the court have the power to order what is called ?contact activity directions. A typical contact activity direction may require one or both parents to attend programmes, classes or counselling sessions devised to assist in establishing maintaining or improving contact with the child. For instance the Separated Parents Information Programme is a course which helps parents understand how to put their child first while separating, even though they may be in dispute with the child’s other parent. The course helps parents learn the fundamental principles of how to manage conflict and difficulties.

The court can order for CAFCASS – the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – to carry out a report. However, due to lack of resources and time restraints the reporting CAFCASS officer may not be able to get to the root of the problem.

In some cases where there is concern that the emotional harm being caused to a child is significant, a guardian can be appointed. A guardian in this context is a professional who has a duty to safeguard the interests of the child within the court proceedings. Once appointed the guardian will instruct a solicitor to represent the child, provide appropriate advice to the child, provide a report to the Court on how the child’s interests may best be safeguarded and act as a ‘voice’ for the child in the proceedings.

Another option can be for an independent social worker to be instructed to spend some time with the family and use social work methods to try and help. They may not however have the necessary mental health background needed to work out why one parent is unable to give emotional permission to the child to have a continuing relationship with the other parent and whether there are actually issues with the other parent as to why the child doesn’t want to spend time with them.

It can be extremely helpful for experts in the field to be instructed to carry out comprehensive assessments followed by targeted therapy. However, whether this is possible depends on willingness of both parents to engage with the idea and fund the costs of obtaining the support. Although if a court orders for such assessments to be carried out and a parent refuses to cooperate inferences can be drawn from that.

Parental alienation is a difficult subject and one which has serious implications for the child and parent impacted. We are seeing an increase in the number of divorce and separation cases where parental alienation is a factor, and seeking advice from an expert early is often the best way to resolve and stop it happening.

4 responses on “What is parental alienation? How can you tackle it?

  1. I’m near the end of a court case, fact finding next, but one child wants to see me, the other doesn’t, my concerns are the daughter who wants to see me says she wants me to appologise for everything I’ve done, which is nothing but fight for them. This for me states there being alianated by the mother. As she’s also being neglected. Anything I can do about this

    1. The blog post you have commented on sets out some initial guidance as to what can be done if you are concerned that your children are being alienated from you. In order to advise you though on the specifics in relation to your circumstances a lot more information would be required, including review of the current court papers and a full understanding of the facts of your case. You should seek specialist legal advice, you can find a specialist lawyer who is local to you online on the Resolution website.

  2. I have been sapareted and then divorced for 9 years. I have three boys the youngest is now 12 I have a new partner of 7 years we have lived together for 5 years. All my children have got on well with my new partner despite my ex telling them they shouldn?t do anything my partner asks them to. My ex husband has a narcasstic personality and can be aggressive however I have never stopped contact. My youngest son has come out as gay which my partner and I support completely however his father does not. We have still promoted contact . My echidna didn?t has been very financially motivated and pays msintence literally to the penny. ( not a rounded figure). A few months ago my middle son left home to study therefore is not around to buffer what information is being filtered to my 12 year old. His behaviour a deteriorated ending in a argument about lying four weeks ago. Now he is refusing to come home and I have had very minimal contact with him. He is stating he does not like my partner and as such will not come home. He has been manipulated by his father. I have had an email saying that finances will need to be paid by me if my child decides to stay with his father. I feel desperate and bereaved . My son and I are usually close and I am concerned for his emotional well being as his father has homophobic views. We are devastated . I have involved social services however my ex husband is convincing and manipulative and seems to get away with it.

    1. In the first instance you could contact a child inclusive mediator to see if mediation could be a suitable way of trying to find a way forwards to ensure your son’s best interests are met. If mediation is not suitable then you should seek advice from a specialist family lawyer as to the other options that are available to resolve matters. Details of child inclusive mediators local to you can be found online at https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/find-local-mediator/ and details of specialist family lawyers local to you can be found online at http://www.resolution.org.uk/findamember/.

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