Parental alienation is a phrase often raised in Children Act proceedings. It is a concept that, if true, can cause a child significant and sometimes irreparable harm. It can happen at any stage of a child’s life but is most often seen shortly after their parents separate, particularly if the separation has been contentious or if there is animosity between them. In this article we look at what parental alienation is, what impact it can have on children, and what steps can be taken to tackle it.
What is parental alienation?
There is no statutory definition of parental alienation, but some obvious signs may include:
- Influencing and coaching a child to hold negative views of the other parent
- Exposing the child to adult issues – sometimes this might relate to an ongoing divorce and financial matter
- Speaking negatively about and criticising the other parent
- Encouraging the child to misbehave in the other parent’s care
- Threatening the child if they speak positively about the other parent.
The above is a non-exhaustive list and, clearly, some of those issues can overlap. The court will often take a dim view if it is proven that a parent is behaving in this way.
What can it cause?
The effects vary from child to child and depend on the severity of the behaviour from the parent seeking to alienate the child. Almost inevitably, it will cause some level of emotional harm. In extreme circumstances, this can cause lasting psychological damage as a child ends up feeling torn between both parents.
How can it be stopped?
The key to stopping and preventing parental alienation is, firstly, quick recognition. Once you have recognised the warning signs it’s important to take swift and immediate action with the assistance of an experienced family lawyer. The longer it is left, the more damage that can be caused. It may be possible to resolve these issues through mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution, but if that’s not possible the court will intervene and there should be no delay in issuing an application to the court.
The court will assess, sometimes with the assistance of an expert, the attempts at parental alienation. If it is deemed severe and persists over a significant period of time, the court may take the decision to change the person with whom the child lives.
It may also be that some form of family therapy can help tackle this issue, and a family law solicitor can help you find somebody suitable to assist.