“Parental alienation” is a term often used in cases where a child or children are particularly resistant to spending time with one of their parents or an individual with Parental Responsibility. This can occur in a range of circumstances, including where the child has been fed exaggerated or false information by one parent, or where one parent has a particularly negative view of the other parent or caregiver and is unable to contain this view in the presence of the child.
Parental alienation can exist in varying degrees, from mild alienation where a child resists visits to a parent to severe alienation where a child actively tries to get away from the ‘alienated’ parent.
What are examples of alienating behaviour?
Parental alienation is complex and can manifest itself in different ways. Often, alienation is the result of a long-running pattern of smaller behaviours, which the ‘alienating’ parent may not even be aware of. Below are some examples of behaviours to be aware of that may discourage a child from spending time with a parent:
- Language is used around a child which discourages them from seeing or enjoying their time with the other parent;
- One parent tries to limit or disrupt the time a child spends with the other parent;
- One parent demands constant communication when the child is not in their care, but does not offer the same when the child is in their care;
- The child is made to feel responsible for not disappointing or angering the ‘alienating’ parent;
- The child is made to feel that they must choose between their parents.
What to do if you think your child is experiencing parental alienation?
Parental alienation is difficult to prove, not only to friends and family, but to a therapist and the courts too.
If you think your child is being discouraged from seeing you, we advise keeping a clear, confidential record of everything you observe that doesn’t seem right to you, documenting your visits and logging requests made by the other parent. You may find that using a parenting app is a really useful way to keep a clear record of the contact you have with the other parent, and any missed visits.
Ensure you stick to any agreements you have reached about contact (whether agreed voluntarily, in mediation or by court order). If your agreement is not adhered to, keep a log as evidence should the matter end up in court. Maintain an open relationship with your child so they feel comfortable telling you things without needing to add pressure. Seek legal advice if you believe this is happening to you, and you are struggling to control the situation.
What to do if you have been accused of alienating your child from their other parent?
If you are faced with accusations of alienation, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to turn. Our expert family lawyers know that situations involving children can be complex and there are two sides to every story.
As with our advice above, keeping a clear record and communicating through a parenting app can be a good start to countering allegations of parental alienation. Making sure that you have a clear record of the facts that can be presented to the court is helpful. If you are making efforts to promote the time your child spends with their other parent, but things aren’t going as planned, make sure that you have evidence to show this.
Parental alienation and the courts
In the most serious cases, courts have ordered children to change residence from living with the parent who is causing the “alienation” to the parent who has been “alienated”. However, while these decisions have been made with good intentions, it has not always been successful and presented more of a disruption for the child. Recent cases have brought to light the issues associated with the term ‘parental alienation’ and its treatment within the courts is keenly monitored by lawyers and separated parents alike.
The court must assess the facts and evidence of the case to determine if alienating behaviours are present, the consequent effect on the child, and the necessary orders required concerning the child’s best interests and welfare.
The future of the term “parental alienation”
Recent years have shown that there is a need for awareness of circumstances in which a child is resistant to involvement with a parent or prevented from experiencing involvement with a parent.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has various tools that enable their officers to identify and describe situations where children display an aversion to spending time with one parent. Their ‘resistant to contact’ and ‘alienating behaviours’ tools provide them with reference points to analyse the dynamics between parents and children involved in court proceedings.
It is clear that ‘parental alienation’ as a term has developed widespread use. However, parents may find that applying the label does little to improve relationships and can feel accusatory. Recent press reports have also shown that the label has been used inappropriately by some parties to family court cases, which has lent negative connotations to the term.
Therefore, the term ‘parental alienation’ is best used carefully, sparingly and only where the court has conducted a proper evidential exercise to determine whether it has, in fact, taken place. Those involved in ‘alienation’ cases should remain aware that while identifying alienating behaviours can help understand what is happening, misuse or inappropriate use of the term has the potential to further damage relationships.
Should you require any further help regarding this subject or other family law matters, our trusted team of dedicated lawyers are here to help answer any questions you may have.
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Alice Gibson joined GL Law in 2022 before the merger with Shakespeare Martineau in October 2022. Alice is a solicitor specialising in all family law matters including divorce & financial remedy, child arrangements matters and cases involving domestic abuse.
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