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  • Writer's picturePenn Chambers

Family Law | What Is Parental Alienation?

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

Parental alienation is appearing in more Children Act matters and Judgements than ever, as the Courts and experts begin to recognise this problem.

For ease, let’s call the manipulating parent Parent A and the alienated parent as Parent B.

There is no legal definition for “parental alienation” in England and Wales, but I would describe parental alienation as the concept of a child becoming estranged from Parent B as a result of Parent A deliberately manipulating, pressuring or coercing that child, which may manifest itself as anxiety, fear, disrespect and/or resentment to Parent B.

Whilst there is no legal definition, recent case law has assisted by Judges providing their own definitions and explanations as to what parental alienation is.

HHJ Bellamy ruled that:

“…the concept of alienation as a feature of some high conflict parental disputes may today be regarded as mainstream…”

Honourable Mr Justice Keehan stated in Re H (Parental Alienation) [2019] EWHC 2723 (Fam):

“…parental alienation is very harmful to a child. It skews the child’s ability to form any and all sorts of relationships and is not limited to the failed relationship with the other parent”

I would argue that parental alienation has in fact been around for decades; however, it seems that the legal sector has only relatively recently begun understanding and recognising parental alienation.

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.

Whilst many will say that this may be as a result of a dispute between both parents, it could be argued that this is not the case. Even with disputes between parents, a child’s rejection of Parent B must have stemmed from somewhere, and surely could not have just popped into a child’s mind that they did not want to see their parent anymore.

Furthermore, when a child begins expressing and using adult words and phrases, this is usually an indication that there has been coaching from Parent A.

There are usually also behaviours such as the child having a particularly strong attachment to Parent A and not wanting to see Parent B. This attachment can be a due to Parent A deliberately manipulating, pressuring or coercing that child, which may manifest itself as anxiety, fear, disrespect and/or resentment to Parent B.

Overt strategies for Parent A may including making the child believe that they have been abandoned, that their unloved and abused by Parent B. This will make the child unsafe and feel a hostile narrative about Parent B (and most likely their wider family too).

There are many examples of what would constitute as parental alienation. Those who are in the “Parent B” category should be aware that when there is no justification for the child to not want to see you, then this may be the beginning of parental alienation.

Unfortunately, upon reading Judgements and case studies in relation to parental alienation, more extreme and serious allegations are usually made against Parent B if Parent A feels that the current allegations are not “working” to their advantage. This can include allegations of physical or sexual abuse in an attempt to keep Parent B out of the child’s life. Parent A then perceives that they are just trying to protect their child from the danger, i.e. Parent B, and which only continues to destroy the child’s relationship with Parent B over time.

It is vital that any issues relating to parental alienation are nipped in the bud as soon as possible as not only can the allegations made by Parent A through the child worsen, but the child’s thoughts and anxieties about Parent B will only continue to worsen and will only psychologically damage the child.

The examples of parental alienation are relatively limitless and even the smallest of behavioural snags could be considered as parental alienation, which will only worsen over time.

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.

Contact me:

0207 183 459

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