What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation can be challenging to define as it relates to a subtle set of behaviours perpetrated by one parent of a child against another parent. In everyday experience, parental alienation is when, as a result of the actions of one parent, a child – unjustifiably becomes indifferent, distant, or even develops a strong dislike towards the other parent. The view taken by the court in the leading judgment on this issue is that parental alienation is “a process of manipulation of children perpetrated by one parent against the other through, what are termed as, “alienating behaviours” (see Re C (Parental Alienation: Instruction of Expert) [2023] EWHC 345 Fam).

How can you spot parental alienation?

Some of the common threads to look out for when spotting parental alienation include:

  • Unjustified hostility – The child expresses unwarranted anger towards one parent.
  • False allegations – False accusations of domestic abuse, for example, made by the child without credible evidence.
  • Sudden preference of one parent – The child exhibits a sudden and unexplained preference for one parent over the other.
  • Lack of rational justification – The child is showing negative feelings that don’t have a rational explanation for them.

Examples of parental alienation

Some examples of parental alienation from one parent towards another could include:

  • The undermining of one parent – Deliberate efforts to criticise the targeted parent.
  • Limiting contact – interfering with visitation rights and limiting communication between the child and the targeted parent.
  • Creating false narratives – Fabricating stories or events to turn the child against the other parent.
  • Emotional manipulation – Using emotional manipulation to influence the child’s perception, for example, withholding affection from the child or becoming cold and distant from them if they speak or act positively about the other parent.

How can you challenge parental alienation?

Challenging parental alienation requires a very careful approach.

Professional bodies such as CAFCASS and social services officers are often not very alert to parental alienation and tend to take what children say at face value. For example, if a young child tells a CAFCASS officer that they don’t enjoy spending time with the non-resident parent, then the officer may simply accept that statement without properly investigating why the child is saying this.

The reality is that children in family court disputes are often placed under tremendous pressure by the resident parent to say or do things that demonstrate hostility to the non-resident parent. Unraveling this kind of manipulative behaviour might require the non-resident parent to apply to the court for an expert witness – usually a child psychologist – to examine the child as an expert witness. This requires the non-resident parent to make an application under part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules.

If the court allows the appointment of a child psychologist, then it will usually order that the child or even the parents be examined by the psychologist in order for the latter to produce an expert report. The psychologist is not entitled to say, one way or the other, whether the resident parent has alienated the child  – that is something for the court to determine. However, the psychologist will offer an opinion on the child’s mental state generally, and on whether the child’s negative views of the non-resident parent have any sincere basis. Having considered the psychologist’s report, the court will make a finding on whether parental alienation has occurred. If the court finds that alienation has occurred then in extreme cases, it may order a transfer of residence (an order that the child live with the currently non-resident parent) coupled with an order that the currently resident parent be limited to spending time with the child on a supervised basis, until they address their alienating behaviour.

How Demstone Chambers lawyers can support you with your family law issues

Demstone Chambers team of direct access family law barristers can help with family court disputes, including parental alienation; false allegations of domestic abuse; and the removal of visitation rights for your child. We are experts in dealing with these types of cases. If you are dealing with parental alienation and would like to seek legal advice, please get in contact today for a consultation.


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