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What is parental alienation?

Posted on 25th April 2022 in Family Law

Posted by

Bea Taylor

What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation is a term that is difficult to define but it is considered to involve extreme negativity by one parent with the aim of interfering in a child’s relationship with their other parent by creating hostility to contact.

In short, ‘Parental Alienation’ primarily refers to the relationship between a parent and child being ruined by one parent exhibiting unjustified negativity towards the other parent, often as a consequence of either divorce, separation or child arrangements issues.  Whilst the term has proved difficult to define, it often occurs when a child of the family starts favouring one parent over the other for no legitimate reason.  This change in attitude can be due to one parent exhibiting controlling and coercive behaviours which interferes with the child’s attitude towards the other parent resulting in feelings of dislike or potentially fear.  One parent may prevent a child from having contact with their other parent, for example by explaining that the other parent is too busy or uninterested in the child.

The child’s perception of the alienated parent can be distorted through the words or actions of the parent who has set out to discredit the alienated parent.  The parent-child relationship can suffer greatly, whether or not the allegations and comments they are being told are true.  Through persistent negative actions or words a child may begin to refuse to see the alienated parent and there may be a long lasting detrimental impact. 


Examples of signs to look out for in your child’s behaviour:

  • Unfairly criticising the alienated parent without justification or examples, sometimes using adult phrases or terms.
  • Openly speaking about the alienated parent’s faults.
  • Acting distant from the alienated parent when they are in the presence of their other parent, yet acting friendly towards the alienated parent when they are alone.

The above list is by no means exhaustive and there are many ways parental alienation can manifest.  It is difficult to prove and expert evidence may be required to prove the existence of parental alienation.


How is it addressed by the Courts?

Parental alienation is gradually being recognised by the Courts.  The Family Court is beginning to acknowledge that it is an issue that requires intervention.

Currently it is not a crime in England and Wales, however some commentators believe the deliberate manipulation or coercion of a child by one parent should be considered a form of emotional child abuse.

If you feel your child is being subjected to negative and manipulate behaviour by their other parent, the first step is to talk to the other parent about your concerns, it may be that once their negativity is highlighted their behaviour will change.  If discussing these concerns is not appropriate or effective, then you may need to consider whether mediation would help to resolve the issue.  If a problem still persists then ultimately an application can be made to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order. 

A child should have a relationship with both their parents unless there are good reasons not to do so, such as safety and welfare concerns.  Ultimately, the Courts paramount consideration will always be the welfare of the child. 


Find out more

If things start to go wrong in family life, we know that it can be a difficult and emotional time. To find out more about how we can help with issues involving children visit our dedicated family law page, or book a free initial conversation with one of our expert family lawyers. Whatever stage you’re at, we’ll be there to support you through it all.

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