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10 December 2019

Spotlight on parental alienation

The breakdown of a relationship is hard on everyone, particularly the children of the family. This difficult time can be made worse when the relationship between one parent and a child becomes strained. There can be various reasons for the strained relationship including:

  1. post-separation rejection – an often temporary reaction to separation of the parents;
  2. exposure to conflict;
  3. struggles with attachment to the parent – perhaps due to age or gender such as separation anxiety;
  4. affinity/alignment – when a child prefers spending time with one parent over the other, perhaps due to differing parental styles;
  5. appropriate rejection – such as domestic abuse, substance abuse or neglect; or
  6. parental alienation.

One of the hardest of these to spot, demonstrate to the court and ultimately deal with is parental alienation.

Parental alienation: when a child’s resistance or hostility to a parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. It is, essentially, an abuse of parental responsibility and can cause grave emotional harm to a child. Sometimes this alienation is a result of a conscious choice by the parent but in other cases it occurs when the parent feels genuinely concerned, although without any basis for their concerns.

It is a nuanced area of the law and requires a balanced assessment of the facts. The impact of parental alienation on the relationship between a parent and child can be long lasting and in the worst of cases impossible to unravel.

It is difficult to turn around parental alienation in a child, particularly where the alienating parent has not seen the error of their ways. A recent case in the High Court took the ultimate step of removing a child of 12 from the care of his mother into the care of his father.

The judge concluded that the mother was not prepared to support the father’s role in their son’s life even with the support of a therapist as she was ’blurring the boundaries between the child’s needs and her own’ by voicing her opinions about the father to the child repeatedly over time. The court further concluded that the absence of a fatherly role had caused the child emotional and social harm. This harm outweighed the difficult move the boy would have to undertake in moving from the Midlands to the South of England, changing school, leaving friends and clubs etc.

Although removal of a child from one parent is a measure of last resort, it is an option available to the court and one which parents should have in the back of their minds whether they believe they are being alienated or they are being accused of alienation.

Often it helps to bring in solicitors to advise on the salient points you should raise if this is a concern of yours. We can help you to navigate every step of pre-proceedings and proceedings themselves, as well as provide an outside perspective during difficult times.

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