What is Parental Alienation and why is it in the news?

Parental Alienation is when one parent negatively influences a child or children against the other parent.  It is a behaviour that is being increasingly recognised by Courts in cases involving children where parents are in dispute over arrangements for their children.

This autumn marks the introduction of new guidelines for Social Workers in Children Act cases to consider as part of their overall assessment of a case whether a child has deliberately been turned by one parent against the other. Social Workers will be looking for specific indicators when interviewing children and parents such as use of negative or derogatory words and language used by one parent to describe the other which a child might also be repeating because they have either overheard or they have been involved in conversations about a parent.

Children can be emotionally influenced by a parent and made to feel guilty for feeling positive about a parent. The frequency with which these patterns of behaviour occurs can be engrained in the mind of the child so that they become convinced that it is not right to have a relationship with one parent. The influences can sometimes be so subtle that a child is not even aware of what is happening to them. If the behaviour is not nipped in the bud early the impact over the long term can be devastating because the child’s beliefs and anxieties about a parent can become so engrained it can take months if not years of work to reverse. In my many years of experience I have seen relationships completely destroyed by it.

The risk of parental alienation is greater in cases where there has been a high level of conflict between parents and where the breakup of the relationship has been very bitter. Alienation is more likely to be influenced by the parent who is the primary carer because they have more opportunity to influence but it is not always the case. Each case is individual with its own set of personal circumstances. There might be other reasons why a child might refuse to spend time with a parent other than being brainwashed.  A child might have witnessed a parent being physically or emotionally abused by the other parent and their instinct is to protect a parent.  A child may pick up on the anxieties of a parent who has been a victim of abuse and refuse to spend time with a parent to ease their parent’s anxieties. It could be premature or too simple to label a breakdown in arrangements as parental alienation when there might be other factors at play.

What we cannot forget is that it is a child’s right to have a relationship with both parents whether they are together or not. Provided it is emotionally and physically safe for a child, a relationship with both parents must be supported and encouraged because the security and comfort of those relationships helps our children grow into happy and stable adults. Our children are adults for longer than they are children. There may come a time in adulthood when they will question the choices and influences their parents have made for them. The denial of a relationship with a parent during childhood can have repercussions for the relationship with a parent later on.

When a break up is bitter it can be hard to separate the emotions that you feel for an ex-partner from what is in the best interest of your children. If you are struggling it might be time to take some legal advice or even consider some counselling to help you process what you are feeling.  If you are an abuser and you recognise that your anger could be a risk to your children, now would be the time to speak to your GP to get some help that is now widely available.

Townsend Family Law are able to provide services tailored to your budget. Should you require assistance please telephone us on 01992 892214.