what is parental alienation
Family law

What is parental alienation?

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Walker Family Law
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The term parental alienation has been used with increasing frequency over recent years, but what exactly does it mean, and how is it dealt with by the family court?

what is parental alienation

What is parental alienation?

The first point that should be made about parental alienation is about what it is not. Contrary to what many believe, parental alienation is not a medical diagnosis, it is merely a question of fact, as we will see in a moment.

There is actually no legal definition of parental alienation. Perhaps the closest thing to an official definition is the approach taken by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (“Cafcass”). Cafcass uses the term “alienating behaviours” to describe circumstances where there is an ongoing pattern of negative attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of one parent (or carer) that have the potential or expressed intent to undermine or obstruct the child’s relationship with the other parent.

Examples of such behaviours are: denigrating or maligning the other parent in front of the child, withholding positive information about the other parent, and generally fostering a false belief that the other parent is in some way dangerous or unworthy.

Note that the behaviours may simply be a result of the alienating parent’s genuine views about the other parent (views that should not of course normally be conveyed to the child), or they may be part of a determined attempt to alienate the child from the other parent.

Note also that the child may sometimes also have strong views about the other parent, irrespective of the behaviour of the alienating parent.

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental alienation is often referred to as if it is a medical condition. The term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), is often used.

But as far as the law is concerned, parental alienation is not a syndrome.

This was made clear in a recent judgment of the President of the Family Division.

The Association of Clinical Psychologists (ACP-UK) were a party in the case, and in their evidence, they stated:

“Much like an allegation of domestic abuse, the decision about whether or not a parent has alienated a child is a question of fact for the Court to resolve and not a diagnosis that can or should be offered by a psychologist. For these purposes, the ACP-UK wishes to emphasise that “parental alienation” is not a syndrome capable of being diagnosed, but a process of manipulation of children perpetrated by one parent against the other through, what are termed as, “alienating behaviours”. It is, fundamentally, a question of fact.”

The President said that this paragraph “deserves to be widely understood and … accepted”. He went on:

“What is important, as with domestic abuse, is the particular behaviour that is found to have taken place within the individual family before the court, and the impact that that behaviour may have had on the relationship of a child with either or both of his/her parents. In this regard, the identification of ‘alienating behaviour’ should be the court’s focus, rather than any quest to determine whether the label ‘parental alienation’ can be applied.”

How do you stop parental alienation?

So what do you do if you fear that the other parent is alienating your child against you?

Assuming that you are unable to resolve the issue directly with the other parent then the answer may be to take the matter to the family court.

As indicated above, the court will consider the matter on the basis of the evidence of the other parent’s behaviour, and the effect of that behaviour upon the child.

And if the court finds that the child has been alienated against the other parent then it will take the matter seriously. Parental alienation can be extremely damaging to the welfare of the child.

The court will usually first try to re-establish a good relationship between the child and the alienated parent, but if the alienating behaviour continues then the court can even take the drastic step of removing the child from the alienating parent, and ordering that they should live with the other parent.

If you believe that the other parent may be alienating you from your child you should seek expert legal advice, as soon as possible.

How We Can Help

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. For expert advice when it comes to parental alienation, please contact the team.