alienation is a term often used by clients who are experiencing difficulties in
the time and communication they are having with their children. Everyone
appreciates that the breakdown of the family unit is a painful time, not least
for children. They inevitably go through a whole range of emotions which may
initially include hostility towards the parent they are no longer living with.
This shouldn’t be confused with parental alienation.
allegation of parental alienation is very serious. The Family Court view it as
a form of child abuse and although it is a commonly used term, even amongst
professionals in the field
of family law, there isn’t a great understanding of what it involves and how it
manifests itself. So, what does it mean?
Parental alienation – this
is the process, defined as a set of strategies one parent uses to turn the
child against the other parent. It is basically psychological manipulation by saying and doing things, both
consciously and unconsciously, that lead the child to look unfavourably on one
Behaviours can include: a parent constantly
badmouthing or belittling the other; limiting contact with the other parent;
forbidding discussion about the other parent; and creating the impression that
the other parent dislikes or does not love the child.
Parental Alienation Syndrome
(PAS) – this is the resulting response in the child who rejects or resists
spending time with one parent post-separation. It is worth noting that not
every child exposed to alienation will develop PAS, some children are more
resilient to any manipulation and will not reject the other parent. However,
for those children who are more vulnerable to parental alienation it often
results in long-term or even lifelong estrangement from a parent and other
family members which has been shown to result in increased lifetime risks of
both mental and physical illness.
Put very simply, parental alienation
is when one parent attempts to exclude the other from the life of their child.
Ironically, when it happens, it inevitably results in the rejected parent
believing they have no option but to take court action to force a change. But
that can make the parental alienation worse.
It can be difficult for the Family
Court to ascertain whether parental alienation is taking place. That’s particularly
so in cases where the resident parent is unconsciously manipulating the child
to reject the other parent and the child is adamant that they want nothing to
do with them. There will also be occasions when allegations of parental
alienation are completely unfounded but, of course, they cannot be disregarded
and a prompt, well considered investigation by the court needs to take place.
The Family Court’s
priority will always be the safeguarding of the child and, once the court is content
that there are no welfare issues arising from contact, the next priority is to
ensure that children are able to maintain relationships with both parents.
However, this is easier said than done if a child is being alienated and the
court process has its limitations.
In reality, it
may be in the child’s interests for the authority of the Family Court to be
used to work towards restoring the relationship with the alienated parent but,
even if parental alienation is established, the court are aware of how
difficult rectifying the damage done can be. There is also little or no training
on the subject and cases of true parental alienation are still being treated as
child arrangement disputes by professionals.
In practice they go well beyond such disputes and are complex
matters requiring expertise and experience which just isn’t available at
present when an application of this nature is made.
At present, parental alienation seems to be recognised but not yet fully addressed, procedurally or remedially (see this article ). This is concerning given that, for those cases where parental alienation truly exists, the effect on the child, if left unaddressed, could be lifelong. Alienating a child from a parent risks serious emotional harm and future mental ill health in adulthood. Given these high stakes and the great strides being made in general in the field of mental health, it highlights the need to tackle a recognised cause of potential mental health illness emanating from abusive family relationships head on.
The Cafcass has
developed the Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF). It provides guides and
tools that Family Court Advisers can use to help them assess the impact of
different case factors including parental alienation on the children they work
Sharp Family Law we work with Family & Couple Therapists to help clients create
and execute effective parenting arrangements. For further information on
Parenting Alienation please contact
Below are resources on Parental Alienation:
Divorce Poison Updated Edition: How to
Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing by Richard Warshak
Breaking the Ties that Bind: Adult Children
of Parental Alienation Syndrome by Amy J.L. Baker
Divorce Casualties, Understanding Parent
Alienation second edition by Douglas Darnell
Tina assists families who do not want their divorce to have destructive consequences for their family. She encourages clients to focus on the future and consider the impact of their decisions, not just in the here-and-now, but in the coming years.