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What is Parental Alienation?

Oct 26, 2021

Have you wondered why your child does not want to spend time with you, or has an unjustified dislike toward you?

While there are numerous reasons for this, a more common but unknown cause is parental alienation or parental manipulation.

What is parental alienation?

Parental Alienation is where a child expresses hostile feelings, unwarranted fear or disrespect towards one of their parents, commonly towards the parent with whom they do not live following the separation of their parents. In those circumstances, the child may resist or refuse to spend time with that parent.

With Parental Alienation a child’s feelings are often influenced by the parent with whom they live, who subconsciously or consciously alienates and manipulates the child against their other parent, through maliciousness or perhaps more subtle behaviour. Child manipulation by one parent can result in the child becoming alienated from their other parent.

It is entirely likely that a young child will not understand or appreciate that it is in their best interests to have a relationship with both their parents. It is therefore possible for them to be influenced by their main parent carer against their other parent and to mirror their negative views.

There is much professional debate as to the concept of parental alienation or child manipulation and the extent to which this term should be accepted by the family courts, however what is clear is that a parent’s conscious or subconscious behaviours can negatively impact upon the child’s relationship with the other parent and or the wider family. Therefore, regardless of whether parental alienation is found or accepted by the court there are options available to address such behaviours and the impact upon the child.

Possible effects of parental alienation on a child

  • The child is unlikely to enjoy a healthy and meaningful relationship with both parents.
  • The child is likely to suffer significant social and emotional harm.
  • The child’s ability to form meaningful and positive relationships is likely to be impeded.
  • The child may suffer depression in later life.
  • The child may suffer from poor self-esteem.
  • The child is likely to have identity difficulties.
  • The child is likely to suffer adverse consequences during their formative years and throughout their life.

What if I suspect parental alienation?

If you suspect parental alienation, we recommend that you seek legal advice without delay.

If the other parent of your child refuses to promote a healthy and loving relationship between you and your child, and instead persists in behaviour which impacts your relationship and which might be considered alienation, then we may advise you to apply to the family court for a Child Arrangements Order or discuss alternative approaches depending on the specific issues.

The court may require an impartial social worker (often from Cafcass) to prepare a welfare report providing an independent evaluation and assessment of your child’s situation and report their findings to the court. Any such report will be central in the court’s decision making as to with whom your child should live and how much time they are to spend with the other parent. Therapeutic work might also be considered.

Parental alienation examples?

In Re S, the Court of Appeal allowed the father’s appeal against the refusal of his application to vary a child arrangements order. The order provided for the shared care of the parties’ daughter. The mother was found to be alienating the child from the father because of her adherence to the beliefs perpetuated by an Australian cult.

In Re H, the High Court ordered an immediate change in the child’s living arrangements as the mother had been found to have alienated the child from his father. The child’s residence was immediately and successfully transferred from the mother to the father, despite the child having no direct contact with his father for 18 months.

You can read more about the topic of parental alienation and the role of Cafcass in such matters by visiting their website. https://www.cafcass.gov.uk

How can we help?

Here at Herrington Carmichael, we have a highly experienced team of family law specialists available to advise and assist you in this area of law and work with you to secure the best outcome for you and your child. Partner and head of department Paul Linsdell has dealt with a significant number of complex children cases with the issue of alienation at their centre.

This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter. 

Paul Linsdell

Paul Linsdell

Partner, Head of Family Law

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