What is parental alienation?

Cases where one parent turns a child or children against the other parent are increasingly being brought to the attention of the UK courts. Bethan Hill-Howells, a solicitor in Thrings’ Family team, looks at the impact that this can have on the families involved.   

Parental alienation describes a situation where a child (or children) has been manipulated, coerced and controlled by one parent to turn against the other parent, and align themselves with the parent exhibiting the controlling and manipulative behaviours. There are different levels of parental alienation, ranging from ‘mild’ to ‘severe’  

The circumstances and level of parental alienation will depend on whether some or all of the examples below are exhibited  

  • Preventing the child (or children) from talking about the other parent; 
  • Preventing the child (or children) from speaking to or contacting the other parent;  
  • Excluding the other parent from important events and activities, and the decision-making process surrounding them (e.g. choosing a school for the child);  
  • Talking negatively about the other parent to the children in order to turn theagainst the other parent (e.g. “Mum/Dad doesn’t look after you properly” or “Mum/Dad doesn’t care about you”);  
  • Not passing on presents, messages or letters from the other parent to the child (or children); and 
  • Making the child (or children) afraid of the other parent (e.g. by providing false / made up examples of the other parent’s behaviour).  

How to prove parental alienation  

Parental alienation is an extremely complex area of law. It can be difficult to prove, with the parent who is being alienated against having to demonstrate that the other parent’s behaviour has occurred over a sustained and extended period of time.  

Where the other parent denies any allegations of parental alienationboth the courts and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) may need to get involved to determine the issues at play and find a way forward.  

Available courses of action include commencing court proceedings under the Children Act 1989. It should be emphasised, however, that court proceedings are often slow and time-consuming. It is also important to understand that a change won’t be made overnight.  

What impact can parental alienation have on children?  

Recent cases have highlighted the negative and damaging impact that parental alienation is having on the child (or children) who are being manipulated, controlled and alienated. In some instances, the affected children have started to exhibit emotional, behavioural and psychological difficulties which could continue as they develop and get older.  

The impact of parental alienation can be long-lasting, with the other parent trying to re-build the relationship with the affected child (or children).  

If you are experiencing issues around parental alienation and would like some guidance on how to resolve them, please contact Bethan Hill-Howells on bhillhowells@thrings.com