How to deal with parental alienation

By Vanessa Lloyd Platt, Lloyd Platt & Co

Increasingly, in matrimonial cases, we are finding that there are allegations of alienating behaviour. This is caused by conflict between parents, leading to one parent deliberately manipulating a child to foster negative attitudes, negative feelings and emotions, and even hatred toward the other parent. The result is the child not wishing to see the other parent who may not be living in the home.

Many parents may find themselves unwittingly engaged in alienating behaviours due to their own negative feelings and emotions, such as anger, resentment, or a narcissistic attitude. Parental alienation is a distressing phenomenon that can have long-lasting and irreparable effects on the mental health of children and families.

A crucial responsibility of parents in situations involving parental alienation is to maintain regular visits with their child or children. Regardless of the challenges and conflicts that may exist, parent feelings must be put aside. It is essential to prioritise and uphold the child’s right to have a meaningful and consistent relationship with both parents.

Regular visits can work towards treatment and prevention, because they provide a sense of stability, emotional support, and a safe space for the child to express their feelings and concerns. Parents must commit to these visits, as they not only strengthen the parent-child bond but also serve as a powerful tool in counteracting the harmful effects of parental alienation.

Legal Advice and Child Lawyers

Parental alienation often involves complex legal issues. Consult with child and child care lawyers who specialise in family law to understand your legal rights and responsibilities and how to deal with parental alienation. We can guide you through the legal process and help you protect your child’s well-being.

A very helpful draft consultation was released in August 2023 by the Family Justice Council where clear guidance was given to the raising of the issue of parental alienation. View it here: Draft Guidance on Responding to allegations of alienating behaviour.

In a case called Re C Parental Alienation instruction of expert 2023 EWHC 345 Sir Andrew McFarlane KC observed that the disruption or undermining of a parent/child relationship is often encapsulated in the term parental alienation or alienating behaviours. He went on to say that a court would need to be satisfied that three elements are established before it could conclude that alienating behaviour has occurred these are:

  • The child is refusing, resisting or reluctant to engage in a relationship with a parent or carer or
  • The refusal, resistance or reluctance is not consequent on the actions of the non-resident parent towards the child or the resident parent; and
  • The resident parent has engaged in behaviours which have directly or indirectly impacted on the child leading to the child’s refusal, resistance or reluctance to engage in a relationship with the other parent.

It is accepted that these kinds of behaviours are not just limited to one parent, but they are behaviours by either parent where either of them repeatedly or constantly criticise or belittle the other, unjustifiably limiting or restricting child contact or undermining contact.

What are the tactics of an alienating parent?

Forbidding discussion about the other parent, creating the impression that the other parent dislikes or does not have love for the child with negative comments, or has harmed them or intends to harm them, or denying emotional responsiveness to the other parent or spurning, terrorising, isolating, corrupting or exploiting them.

Whilst alienating behaviour is recognised as being subtle and insidious, the alienated parent who is alleging alienating behaviours has to discharge the burden of establishing that the behaviour has occurred.

The alienation must involve an act or act by a parent that must be evidenced resulting in the psychological manipulation of the child and the child’s unjustified rejection of the other parent. All potential risk factors such as domestic abuse and safety must be considered in dealing with these matters.

Recognising the Child Behaviours of Parental Alienation

The resistance or hostility towards one parent may include a range of behaviours from refusing to speak to or see a parent, throwing away things they associate with them, to angry or challenging reactions to that parent or a response to typical parent boundary setting.

It can also include making derogatory remarks about the parent to others for example a teacher or third parties or being generally critical about them. However, none of these behaviours can be taken to indicate evidence of exposure to alienation behaviours but can be helpful to consider the reaction to the relationship breakdown as a loss reaction and to consider that observed behaviour can change over time.

It is important that the Courts recognise there will be situations where there is no obvious cause or reason that can identify the child’s hostility. In the absence of justification, it does not prove in itself alienating behaviours.

What if there is no parental alienation?

The fact that the child is resistant to spending time with the parent does not automatically mean that the child has been exposed to alienating behaviours from the other parent. The Courts have now accepted that a child might withdraw from a relationship with an absent parent for a variety of reasons.

It may be because the targeted parent may have formed a new relationship with a partner that perhaps they don’t like, or because their parents have split up, or because of loyalty to the preferred parent with whom they are living, or rigid parenting or abusive parenting by the absent parent, or simply that there are different parenting styles. Alignment on attachment issues can result in resistance, reluctance and refusal without any alienating behaviours on the part of an adult.

Family Justice Counsel recommendations

What is now being suggested by the Family Justice Counsel is that there must be robust and proper Case Management and determination by a Judge. The allegations set out above have been shown to exist, and there must be a complete review in accordance with guidelines.

There has been much talk by practitioners whether there should automatically be what is known as a Fact-Finding Hearing in these kinds of cases. However, it has now been suggested that the Court should only have a Fact-Finding Hearing where it is relevant to the ultimate issues to be determined and where such a hearing is necessary and proportionate.

Sometimes alienation behaviours are raised as a response to allegations of domestic abuse and therefore the Court must carefully examine these kinds of allegations. In such Fact-Finding Hearings, the evidence that will be required will be police disclosures, medical records, social work records, school records, telephone records.

In some cases where a pattern of behaviour is relied on, the Court can direct that narrative statements should be provided by the parties with a summary of the types of behaviour alleged and over the period of which they may have occurred. The Court then should list a Pre-Trial Review to consider the evidence.

It is suggested that the Courts must be cautious to find a default finding of a parent who fails to establish allegations of domestic abuse and therefore has engaged in alienating behaviour. Where a Court has made findings of any form of abuse the Court will need to consider whether further evidence is needed to conduct a welfare evaluation.

The Court must not automatically instruct an expert unless the evidence is necessary and proportionate to the issues under consideration. Sometimes if there have been findings of alienating behaviour or other forms of abuse the Court may consider appointing a Guardian on behalf of the child to assist in informing the child in age-appropriate terms of the progress of the proceedings.

Where a Guardian is appointed, their analysis might consider external interventions that could be of assistance to the children and parents. The Court can have interim orders where they have made findings that there has been alienation to try to improve the relationship of the absent parent.

For example, to use social media such as Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp or third-party intervention such as involvement with the school etc. In addition, CAFCASS can offer short term family counselling with their improving child and family arrangements programs to help foster a more positive relationship.

Assessing Family Dynamics in Parental Alienation Cases

In some cases, the Courts may be invited to direct a whole family psychological assessment to consider the family dynamics and functioning. When considering these kinds of assessments, the Court must consider the disruption it could cause to the family and whether it is balanced and comprehensive.

In any case of alienation, the Court must consider that the welfare of any child or children remain paramount. Therefore, if the Court considers removing a child from where it is living to the non-present adult, they should be very cautious in taking such a step.

There are a lot of matters that will impact on the child particularly where one of the parent’s relationships have been disrupted and therefore the Court has to take into account the wishes and feelings of the child, the physical, emotional and educational needs.

The impact of continuity or change of schooling or educational arrangements, the practical and physical arrangements for the care of the child in any change and therapeutic support for the family.

The Court has to carefully look at whether there should be different arrangements for siblings to see the absent parent and what the effect will be if there is separation from the parent they are living with and contact plans for any new family configuration.

The Court must consider the harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering harm. The Court must look at how capable each parent, and any other person in relation to the child, is of looking after the child.

Where a child’s relationship with the parent has been undermined the Court must make difficult welfare decisions. This should not be seen as a punishment and must be delivered in as sensitive a way as possible.

Understanding Harmful Parental Manipulation

It is well established in law that some parents manipulate their children, and this can include being manipulated to make false allegations in family proceedings. See Re: H (Children) [2014] EWCA Civ 733 Parker J. Examples of harmful parental behaviour can include a parent reinforcing loyalty and rejection of the other parent with emotional warmth, withdrawing emotional warmth in response to perceived disloyalty, a child wishing to maintain a relationship with the other parent.

This can include engendering a developmentally inappropriate need to protect the emotional fragility of the parent through sharing inappropriate information about the adult relationship or portraying the other parent as a source of harm to the wellbeing of that parent.

Children who have experienced loss arising from parental separation may anticipate the loss of another relationship or threat to the security of that relationship and be motivated by their attachment needs to protect their relationship over the other competing needs.

What is often described in these scenarios is a parent struggling to maintain a boundary between their own psychological needs and those of the child. There may be factors in a parents own psychological function that may lead them to engage in psychologically manipulative behaviour actively or inadvertently.

The Court must understand these processes and a parent’s capacity to change such behaviour with or without support may require the assistance of an appropriately qualified psychologist or expert.

Discover How to Deal with Parental Alienation with Expert Guidance

If you feel that you are guilty of manipulating your child for a multitude of different reasons, or that your child is experiencing some form of parental alienation to alienate them from you, do not hesitate to contact us today because we have experience of dealing with these matters.

It is imperative when alleging parental alienation that it can be supported by appropriate evidence to allow the matter to move forward sensibly. Evidence will need to disrupt behaviours and ensure that a relationship with both parents is possible for the future.

Contact us today to find out your legal rights and responsibilities and how to deal with parental alienation. Please fill in our form, call us on 0208 343 2998 or click to contact our friendly lawyers in London.

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