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  • Writer's picturePenn Chambers

Family Law | The Impact Of Parental Alienation

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

Whilst you’re going through a relationship breakdown, of course, your child(ren) need to maintain a strong and healthy relationship with both parents and any conflict between both parents should be shielded from the child.

I usually refer to the manipulating parent as Parent A and the alienated parent as Parent B.

Unfortunately, some parents may use “tactics” to strengthen their identity and create an expectancy to choose sides. This can begin with making Parent B seem “less” than Parent A by manifesting anxiety, fear and disrespect into the child. This can continue and become quite extreme and can manipulate the child to hate Parent B, possibly by even making severe allegations about Parent B.

As explained before, there is no legal definition of parental alienation, however, Cafcass recognises parental alienation as being:

“…when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

Richard Gardner, the psychiatrist, defined parental alienation as:

…a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target [Parent B] parent”.

Cases of parental alienation typically begin presenting themselves during Children Act proceedings and this usually begins with the child unexpectedly saying that they cannot remember any good times or positive experiences with Parent B and the child is refusing to spend time with Parent B.

The views of the child of Parent B is usually almost exclusively negative and may express that they want to erase Parent B from their life.

There are many signs of parental alienation, such as:

  1. Solely bad feelings towards Parent B (and their wider family);

  2. Wanting to limit contact with Parent B;

  3. Allegations of emotional, physical or sexual abuse in an attempt to keep Parent B out of the child’s life (with Parent B perceiving that they are just trying to protect the child);

  4. The child feeling like they have to choose between the parents, and so on.

Parental alienation can cause long term emotional and psychological harm on a child and Judges are beginning to pick up on the devastating effects that it can have on a child, even recognising parental alienation as a syndrome.

In the case of Re H (Children), Lady Justice Parker made it known that the emotional harm of a child through parental alienation is substantial:

Parents who obstruct a relationship with the other parent are inflicting untold damage on their children and it is, in my view, about time that professionals truly understood this”.

Unfortunately, many feel that parental alienation is a largely overlooked form of child abuse as many are probably unaware of the harm that the child can be subject to.

There have been reports that parental alienation is a serious mental condition and the severe effects include low self-esteem, self-hatred, depression, anxiety and lack of trust. This is particularly concerning and those who I would describe as Parent A must be aware of the damage they are causing the child.

It could be argued that many children do not naturally feel such hatred in some cases, and it has to be taught. In some cases, Parent A, who is teaching the child such hatred, only causes emotional and physiological harm to a child.

It can be argued that it is, in fact, Parent A who is the harmful parent – whether they realise this or otherwise.

If you have any concerns in relation to parental alienation, you should seek advice as soon as possible to ensure that the situation does not worsen.

The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and you should take full and comprehensive legal advice on your individual circumstances by a fully qualified Solicitor before you embark on any course of action.

Please contact me:

0207 183 4595

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