Ian Walker

Ian Walker – Founder/ Director/ Solicitor/ Mediator/ Arbitrator

Parental Alienation

Our experienced team of child law specialists has expertise in representing parents where parental alienation is alleged.

What is Parental Alienation?

There is no definitive definition of parental alienation in the law of England and Wales.

Essentially, parental alienation refers to a situation where a family relationship involving children has broken down and where one parent will use negative and sometimes extreme behaviour to undermine the relationship between the child and the other parent. The aim is normally to cause the relationship between child and the other parent to break down.

The terminology parental alienation has become widespread in recent years, but the underlying concept is sadly not one that is new.

legal 500 leading firm logoParental alienation and implacable hostility

The concept of parental alienation is not new to the English Courts and such cases used to be referred to as ones involving the intractable hostility or implacable hostility by one parent to their child having any form of contact with the other parent.

This implacable hostility is referring to the situation from the perspective of the parent who is implacably opposing the relationship. Parental alienation is framed from the perspective of the child becoming alienated from their parent. But I think we can say that they are two sides of the same coin.

Parental alienation usually describes a situation where a child has been deliberately manipulated, coerced, or put under pressure to align themselves with one parent – against the other parent.

Cafcass guidance on parental alienation

Parental alienation is a term which is increasingly used in cases where there is relationship breakdown. In the more on this topic – links below there is a link to the Cafcass guidance on parental alienation.

Cafcass recognise parental alienation as being when a child’s resistance or hostility towards their parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.

The Cafcass guidance is that parental alienation could be one of a number of reasons why a child rejects or resists spending time with a parent after their parents have separated. The Cafcass guidance is that all of the potential risk factors – which also include the child witnessing or being a victim of domestic abuse – must be adequately and safely considered and resolved.

Alienating behaviours can include consistently badmouthing or belittling the other parent, limiting contact, forbidding discussion about the other parent and creating the impression that the other parent dislikes or does not love the child.

Research about parental alienation

In the more on this topic links below we have also included a link to some research from Brunel University, London which concerns abusive parents claiming that they are the victim of parental alienation in order to regain contact with their child.

There is also a link to an article in the Women’s Aid periodical – Safe which covers similar ground.

If a parent has been the victim of domestic abuse and if their child has also been the victim of that abuse or witness the abuse – then it is not surprising that they will be resistant to arrangements for contact with the other parent – which might place themselves or their child at risk of harm. It can also happen that hostile parent who has not been the victim of domestic abuse might claim domestic abuse as part of their efforts to undermine/alienate the child from the other parent.

Sometimes parents do not take responsibility for their actions and this feeds into the escalation of the problem.

Parental conflict and parental alienation

When parents separate it is not uncommon for one or both parents to lose sight of the need for their children to maintain a positive and safe relationship with both parents.

Over the years we have seen many situations where, sadly, parents have become over involved in ongoing hostilities with each other. Based on the above, these negative behaviours can escalate into parental alienation – which is a form of child abuse. (Emotional abuse/neglect).

Finding of fact hearings and parental alienation

These are difficult cases – and a lot can turn on the facts. Where there are serious allegations made by either parent – the court is likely to schedule a finding of fact hearing.

At the finding of fact hearing the court will hear evidence from both parents and any witnesses and the court will then decide what has happened. Once the facts have been decided – the court will then be able to progress to a consideration of what steps are required to meet the welfare needs of the child.

Good preparation for a finding of fact hearing is extremely important. A badly prepared case could lead to allegations that are true being rejected as untrue by a court – if the evidence is not properly marshalled and the allegation is not proven. This can leave the parent who has not proved that allegations in an intolerable situation.

Preparation for a finding of fact hearing starts with a thorough consideration of the potential allegations and the evidence which may support them or be used to challenge them. Allegations need to be carefully and clearly framed. Because of the serious nature of allegations of parental alienation, we would strongly recommend that expert legal advice is sought at an early stage.

Putting the needs of children first

Ultimately, these are very sad cases. Unless there are good safety reasons – children will benefit from enjoying a positive relationship with both their parents. Most parents can find a way beyond negative feelings towards each other to make arrangements happen reasonably well.

These extreme scenarios can be avoided by parents focusing on the needs of their children, treating each other with respect, abiding by agreements, talking positive about the other parent (for the benefit of their children), being reasonable with arrangements, and where necessary seeking professional help to assist with their own feelings arising from the breakdown of their relationship.

More on this topic

Parental Alienation - Cafcass Guidance
Parental Alienation - Cafcass Guidance

Cafcass Guidance on parental alienation cases including further links

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Parental alienation and the family courts – Women's Aid
Parental alienation and the family courts – Women's Aid

An article by Dr Adrianne Barnett for Women's Aid on the subject of parental alienation – published 28 April 2020

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'Playing the Parental Alienation card': Abusive parents use the system to gain access to children
'Playing the Parental Alienation card': Abusive parents use the system to gain access to children

Article from Brunel University London published 20 January 2020 about estranged (and abusive) fathers claiming parental alienation to gain time with their children.

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Our contact page
Our contact page

Parental Alienation is a complex issue – contact one of our expert children law specialist solicitors

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