Parental Alienation


24 August 2022

By Farhad Islam

Parental alienation is not part of everyday understanding of family law. Many people are not aware of parental alienation and/or indeed may not understand what it actually is. We do not in fact have a definition of parental alienation. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), who independently advise the family courts during children proceedings, guidance states that:

‘The definition of parental alienation itself as a concept in family court cases, its surrounding terminology and its scale remain under debate, meaning there is no clear data as to its extent. While there is no single definition, we recognise parental alienation as 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 is one of a number of reasons why a child may reject or resist spending time with one parent post-separation.’

CAFCASS appear (as highlighted above in bold) to have provided a definition. CAFCASS are largely responsible for identifying cases of potential parental alienation. However, CAFCASS will only become involved in a matter after proceedings have been commenced, which is often after many months/years of alienating behaviour (meaning it may be too late). Parental alienation is often not even in considered by CAFCASS, unless it is in fact raised by the person making the application.

In a nutshell, parental alienation means a child rejecting a parent (often the father) with whom they had previously had a positive relationship through no fault of that parent and/or the child, and seemingly without justifiable reason. The psychologist Amy Baker (2010) noted that parental alienation will usually result in the child adapting their behaviours and feelings to that of the alienating parent to ensure their attachment needs are met. This means they can end up trying to please the alienating parent, rather than basing their behaviour on true feelings. Instead, the child will eventually be the one to highlight the non-alienating parent’s alleged faults and eventually believe that they would be happier without them in their lives.

Examples of parental alienation include, belittling; badmouthing and undermining the other parent; forbidding discussion about the other parent whilst they’re in the alienating parent’s care; interrogating the child after contact about the other parent and what discussions they had during their contact session; placing blame on the other parent and making the child believe that they were the one to break up the family, resulting in hostility and hatred; convincing the child that the other parent does not love them or loves them less than another child of the family; prohibiting contact or cancelling pre-arranged contact sessions; restricting information provided to the other parent regarding schooling, activities or medical issues; making important decisions about the child’s welfare without consultation of the other parent; blocking indirect contact (telephone/video calls) by making the child unavailable; undermining the other parent’s authority.

It is important and indeed the responsibility of parents, professionals and lawyers to better understand the concept of parental alienation. This will help with spotting the signs of parental alienation and, in turn, increase the chances of rescuing the loving relationship that once was.

If you believe that your child is being alienated against you, you should seek legal advice. This is even more so if the alienation is severe, as it may mean you needing to consider making an urgent application to Court.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.