What is Parental Alienation? banner

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation is a highly contentious matter and is likely to be incredibly difficult to manage for any parent whose children are being manipulated to show hostility and resistance towards them.

Understanding exactly what parental alienation is, as well as the potential signs, is incredibly important for separated parents. Parental alienation is being increasingly recognised by family courts and is likely to be taken into account during divorce, separation and children law proceedings.

Here, we deliver insight into what parental alienation is and what sort of actions are taken to address the issue, both by family law solicitors and the courts.

What does parental alienation refer to?

Parental alienation is also sometimes referred to as implacable hostility, parental alienation syndrome and malicious parent syndrome. It is a condition where a child is manipulated or coerced by one parent to show unwarranted hostility towards the other parent (typically separated parents).

Parental alienation was also once referred to by the outdated term ‘malicious mother’s syndrome’, though it is far from accurate, as both men and women are equally capable of demonstrating alienating behaviours.

Parental alienation can take many forms. It could include a parent using a range of behaviours to manipulate their child’s attitude towards the other parent, including:

  • Speaking badly about the other parent to the child
  • Preventing the child from contacting the other parent
  • Encouraging disrespect or disobedience towards the other parent
  • Manipulating the child into displaying loyalty towards one parent
  • Creating a belief that the other parent cannot be trusted or does not love the child

Parental alienation often presents as a reluctance from the child to spend time with the other parent without any real reason.

What are the potential signs of parental alienation?

There are several potential signs that a child may be alienated. This could include behaviours such as, but limited to:

  • Idealising one parent over the other
  • Having trivial or false reasons for not liking a parent
  • Reacting disproportionately to certain behaviours
  • Acting cold and distant towards one parent
  • Refusing to speak to a parent for no particular reason
  • Openly discussing a parent’s shortcomings
  • Extending their alienation towards a parent to their family
  • Repeating negative comments made by the other parent

It is very important to note that, just because a child may be exhibiting any one of these behaviours, this does not mean that parental alienation is taking place. Living with separated parents can be incredibly challenging for children, which means that some behaviours are likely to occur naturally.

However, it is certainly useful to be aware of these types of behaviours so that you can seek advice from a family law solicitor, who provides a professional opinion as to whether anything untoward is occurring.

Is parental alienation a crime?

In England and Wales, parental alienation is not considered to be a crime. That being said, campaigners have put forward the argument that it should qualify as a form of child abuse.

Who do I report parental alienation to?

If you suspect that you are subject to parental alienation, it is important to speak to a family law solicitor. They will be able to review your situation and assess whether it will be possible to present a case to the courts, who will then be able to make a decision as to how proceedings will then unfold.

How do the courts deal with parental alienation cases?

Currently, there are no specific provisions in UK law for courts to deal with parental alienation, but there is scope for the courts to determine a resolution to an issue on a case-by-case basis.

Aside from hearing testimonies from both parents, the courts may take additional steps during cases of parental alienation. For example, depending on the age of the child involved in the case, they may also be involved in proceedings, with a psychologist who specialists in parental alienation also being appointed to assess the child, both parents and the wider family unit.

Any evidence gathered by the psychologist may then be used to guide proceedings and have an impact on the final outcome.

What may happen if parental alienation is proven?

Depending on the circumstances, the court could make a number of decisions regarding parental alienation. As far as possible, the courts will be required to promote positive contact between parents and children, with the decision to stop contact altogether often being the last resort.

Speak to our family law specialists in Bristol and Bath

For pragmatic, constructive, and sensible advice and assistance on family law issues, please contact your local team in BathBristol or Bradford on Avon.


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