person standing alone in water

Parental alienation is when following divorce or separation a child for no good reason rejects one of their parents, due to the influence, either conscious or subconscious, of the other parent. It can manifest itself as a child refusing to see the other parent or falsely accusing that parent of harming or endangering them.

It is still a controversial topic with little unified consensus on subject. However, it is increasingly something the courts in this jurisdiction are being forced to grapple with and understand.

Parental alienation is claimed by many to be one of the worst forms of emotional abuse on a child. However, there are voices which debate as to whether it is even a valid concept at all. Proponents of the later claim it is a convenient counter argument by perpetrators of domestic abuse to hide their own conduct.

What is agreed upon, is that children experience the breakdown of their parent’s relationship in different ways. Research has shown that an individual’s child’s reactions and feelings can be influenced by the adult behaviour they have witnessed or been exposed to. It is not uncommon for children whose parents are going through relationship breakdowns to feel angry, withdrawn or prone to emotional outbursts.

The impact on the child can best be minimised by endeavouring to place the needs of the child first and shielding the child from the conflict although this is sometimes easier said then done. Tragically, there are too often occasions where one or more parent is unable to manage their hostility towards the other. This leads to them either knowingly or unknowingly involving the children in the parental conflict and impairing their ability to co-parent responsibly.

If signs of parental alienation are not addressed properly, it can ultimately lead to a child being completely alienated from one parent and the impact of this can be lifelong. Common tell-tale signs of parental alienation often begin initially with very low-level mundane barriers of involvement against the other parent such as preventing them from attending school or sport events or not involving them with medical appointments. However, this can then progress to a campaign against them where the child is encouraged or pressured to agree with the hostile parent’s negative statements or narrative. Common signs in cases are when one parent continually fails to adhere to orders made in respect of child arrangements or where court appointed social workers determine that the child is being placed at risk of significant emotional harm, or are already suffering from it, due to one parent’s feelings about the other.  

In terms of remedies, the court can appoint a Guardian or order various interventions. As a last resort, it could ultimately transfer residence or order a suspended transfer or residence.

However, a common mistake by many is to allege parental alienation when it is far too early to determine such a diagnosis. This could be viewed by the courts or professionals as an overreaction. Court’s and professionals would have seen perpetrators of domestic abuse attempt to deflect blame, or reverse culpability, by making allegations that the victim is alienating the child against them.

It is important to distinguish between parental alienation and other reasons why a child may be reluctant to spend time with the other parent. Other reasons could be a temporary post-separation rejection or just a strong attachment to one parent over the other. Another reason may be that a child’s feelings toward the other parent is justified in some way but not acknowledged. 

Such cases can be very finely balanced and need to be approached with expertise and care. Consideration should be given at an early stage as to whether an early fact finding would be advantageous in relation to the alienating behavour.

If you are concerned that your child is at risk of alienation, our team of solicitors have experience working with a range of other professionals including, child and family therapists, counsellors, mediators and child psychologists who specialise in the field. Every child and every case is different and has its own facts and dynamics. We can guide you through the process and advise you on the most effective strategy.