Parental alienation is somewhat of a buzzword in family law cases at the moment and refers to one parent attempting to sabotage or ruin the other parent’s relationship with the child.
What do family courts do about parental alienation?
When the court is asked to consider the living and contact arrangements of children with separated parents, they primarily consider the ‘ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned’.
The child’s age and understanding is vital when considering their expressed views and wishes. In genuine cases of parental alienation, this is an important balance that needs to be applied.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation (legally known as Alienating behaviours) is where one parent or carer has a negative attitude towards or talks negatively about the other parent or carer in front of the child.
This would be with the intention to undermine or even destroy the child’s relationship with their other parent or carer.
It is not a syndrome, despite the commonly held belief that it is, it is a pattern of behaviour often by one parent (but not always) aimed towards the child or children in the middle of a parental dispute.
How does an alienated child act?
An ‘alienated’ child will often refuse to have contact with the other parent. Not only that, they may also refuse to see other people such as professionals involved with trying to help the family.
It is not uncommon for any child caught up in proceedings to try to please their parents by saying what they want to hear, and the courts and Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) often understand this.
In addition, they will likely be much more definite in expressing what they believe are their own wishes; without realising that they are under the influence of the other parent.
What is an example of parental alienation?
Some examples of parental alienation include negative attitudes, communications and beliefs that unfairly criticise, demean, vilify, malign, ridicule or dismiss the child’s other parent.
It includes giving false beliefs or telling untrue stories to, and withholding positive information from the child about the other parent, together with the “relative absence of observable positive attitudes and behaviours.” (Johnston and Sullivan, 2020).
Is parental alienation a crime in UK? / Is parental alienation illegal in UK?
Although parental alienation is not a crime, these behaviours can damage a child’s sense of self-identity and self-worth, as well as their connection with someone who is important to them and will remain important to them for the rest of their lives.
It can also damage the child’s connection with the ‘other side’ of their wider family. It is one reason why a child may reject or resist spending time with one parent or carer following their separation.