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The parents left behind: What parental alienation does to a family

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Stowe Services

Parental alienation, for want of a better description, is a hot topic right now. In fact, it is a term, that as a specialist child and family lawyer, I hear more and more in cases where parents are experiencing difficulties in making arrangements for their children.  

A somewhat controversial concept, parental alienation is often misunderstood and lawyers, social services, CAFCASS and the courts have been trying to deal with it for years in cases where the parents are locked in legal proceedings over contact for their children.

So what is parental alienation?

Parental alienation is often confused with estrangement but they are not the same thing.

Estrangement can occur if a parent is abusive or has behaviour that damages or strains the relationship with the child. Parental alienation is when one parent deliberately manipulates a child to unfairly reject the other parent with the motivation to destroy the parental bond.

Parental alienation syndrome refers to a variety of symptoms displayed by a child when rejecting a parent, and the effects are far-reaching.

Deliberately influencing a child to reject the other parent is very emotionally damaging and often leads the child to fear the alienated parent and avoid seeing them, despite them previously having a loving relationship prior to separation or divorce.

Signs of parental alienation

An attempt to alienate a child from a parent is carried out for many reasons; I have seen it take place as an attempt to punish the other parent or at times, it is a  personality disorder affecting the alienating parent that stops them from handling stress rationally.

Whatever the reason, alienation works slowly and takes place over some time. Here are some warning signs I have noticed with clients over the years:

  • Belittling, criticising and making derogatory comments about the targeted parent in front of, or in ear-shot of the child.
  • Cancelling or interfering with visits or blocking all contact.
  • Keeping important information about the child including medical, educational and social activities away from the targeted parent.
  • Making important decisions about the child without consultation.
  • Interference and /or blocking contact via telephone, text, email, FaceTime etc with the targeted parent.
  • Rejection of the targeted parent’s gifts, cards, holidays and offers of help.
  • Defying the authority of the targeted parent and encouragement of the child to do the same.  

Through this, and many other forms of alienation,  the child is programmed to believe that the alienated parent is worthless and does not care about them. The result – a child is convinced that they would be happier without them in their lives.

So, what can be done?

Emotionally, parental alienation is a complex form of trauma and I would advise seeking out professional help for both yourself and the children if possible.

From a legal perspective, seeking professional advice early on is so important so that you have support to understand the complex legal system. And the courts can help.

If parental alienation does exist properly in a particular case then the court can order that the alienated child spend time (has contact) with the alienated parent and can even increase the time with that parent.  

The court can also impose conditions in relation to the time the child spends with the other parent and can impose penal notices if the order is not complied with by the alienating parent such that he/she may be fined, ordered to undertake unpaid work in the community or, in the most serious of cases, can be sent to prison.  

In the very worst cases where parental alienation continues, despite the court’s attempts to preserve the relationship between the child and the alienated parent, the court can order a change of residence so that the child lives with the alienated parent.

Whatever your situation, do not lose sight of what is important: your children and their well-being. And remember that the family courts are there to protect the best interests of all children.

Need help?

If you are concerned about parental alienation please do get in touch with me . I have practised family law for over 35 years specialising in all aspects of divorce and children disputes including residence, contact, prohibited steps orders, specific issue orders and parental alienation.

Mark Christie is the head of Stowe Family Law’s dedicated Childrens Department. Mark has specialised in family law for more than 35 years and provides clients with a wealth of practical experience.

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  1. David Mortimer says:

    Nobody in the system is ever going to help or question what pays them all so well. The amendments to the Children’s Act which were introduced by the Children & Families Act do not help the parents or the children the family courts are supposed to best serve. I think it’s very sad successive governments even those who pledged to end the misery of the family courts when they were in opposition have failed to provide families with a family justice system they can trust & respect. Parliamentary accountability for the family courts is wholly theoretical while the system remains closed.

  2. Yvie says:

    Also on re-marriage. The alienated parent can be slowly pushed out until the step-parent takes over the role of father and the biological father finds he is no longer required. Its hard to imagine how children who once loved a parent can turn completely against that parent to the extent that they express hatred for the parent. You can only wonder at how such damage could be inflicted. It must have been constant and unremitting over a large number of years

  3. Davis says:

    You encourage parental alienation you absolutely ruined my life for what Money… You are disgraceful divorce lawyers that’s all you are

  4. Graham Parry says:

    I agree with the above three comments. I also think saying that orders are enforceable as the article does is wrong. I have seen much in family law and have never seen a contact order enforced or an alienating parent taken to task, then again the cases I have seen (a lot) aren’t high asset big solicitor bills ones which is the subject matter here.

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