While there is no fixed definition, CAFCASS the government body tasked with assisting the Courts in Children proceedings, states parental alienation is: “When a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”.
Parental alienation describes behaviours of ongoing negative attitudes, feelings, 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. It is most commonly seen in divorced or separated households, in which a resident parent turns their child against the non-resident parent, resulting in the child’s rejection or resistance of spending time with the parent.
Both men and women can demonstrate alienating behaviours, and Julia Sacco, Family Law Solicitor, sheds some light on this in family Court.
Judges of the Court, CAFCASS, lawyers and social workers can sometimes find it difficult to recognise parental alienation in cases of emotional abuse, and this can put the child at the risk of losing a loving parent temporarily or permanently. In UK Courts, this is referred to as ‘implacable hostility’, which denotes ‘the attitude shown by one parent to another in denying access to or contact with their child after separation or divorce’.
It can be caused by irrational behaviour by one parent and can have long-lasting emotional impacts on the child, the parent, and wider family members. It is important to spot the potential signs of alienating behaviours (even in yourself), and where possible, mitigate any impacts on the wellbeing of the child.
Behaviours can vary and be difficult to identify, especially if you don’t live with the other parent. Examples of alienating behaviours include:
- Negative attitudes towards the other parent
- Behaviours and speech that demeans, vilifies, ridicules, or dismisses the other parent
- Expressing false beliefs or information to the child
- Blaming the other parent for their loss or misfortune
- Corrupting or exploiting the child’s emotional needs
- Manipulating the child to think and feel certain ways
According to CAFCASS, child victims of these behaviours can foster false beliefs of the other parent. These beliefs can be adopted by the child as their own, therefore the Court must analyse the mental and physical wellbeing of the child, and the parents’, to ensure they are safe.
Ways to mitigate alienating behaviours in the child
In mitigating or managing alienating behaviours, prevention is key. Early intervention is the most effective way at preventing irreparable damage to relationships, so if you suspect your child is the victim of parental alienation, it is important to seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.
- Avoid correcting or denying information and beliefs expressed by the child as this may be a thought they have adopted from the other parent
- Avoid responding with anger, upset, or other extreme emotion which may put further psychological harm on the child
- Keep a log of any behaviours
- Be patient with the child and seek to support their emotional needs
- Look out for the above signs and intervene as soon as possible by contacting a Family Law expert
Separation and divorce can be daunting for all concerned, and when there are children involved, it is paramount to ensure any legal proceedings reflect the child’s best interests. Parental alienation is an extreme form of psychological abuse, and children have the right to know their parents unless doing so puts the child at risk.
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