Parental Alienation Awareness Day (PAAD) is held on 25 April each year in an attempt to raise awareness of the impact of parental alienation on not only the parents, but also children themselves.
There is still no one agreed ‘definition’ of parental alienation and this can result in confusion and misuse of the term. CAFCASS, in their 2019 guidance, define it as the unjustified resistance or hostility from a child towards one parent as a result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.
Parental alienation therefore covers a spectrum of behaviours, which can include badmouthing the other parent, limiting contact with the other parent, forbidding the child from speaking about the parent, or trying to manipulate the child into believing the other parent does not love them. Not only is this massively damaging to the relationship between parent and child, but it also can result in long lasting mental scars for the alienated child.
The Invisible Parent: The Dark Art of Parental Alienation is a book written anonymously based on one father’s experience of alienation from his children – it is unique as it allows an insight into the impact alienation has on the parent, as well as the struggles they face navigating the court process. The book can help parents to identify ‘warning signs’ of alienation, and due to the raw account given by the father, help professionals understand client frustrations with what is a very complex, costly and time-consuming court process.
Is there a ‘smoking gun’ or specific incident to look out for?
Parental alienation is best understood as a ‘campaign’ of behaviour, rather than any one specific event, that leads a child to become resistant to, or refuse entirely, contact with the other parent. This behaviour can begin initially with very low level barriers to involvement for the non-resident parent, for example not being kept up to date regarding progress at school and parents evenings, and not being involved in medical appointments. It can then progress, unbeknownst to the resident parent, into a campaign of denigration in front of the child, where the child is encouraged to disparage the other parent, or encouraged to agree with the resident’s parents negative statements about the non-resident parent. The child is then often rewarded for doing so under the guise of ‘sharing their feelings’. The resident parent will then often present their case as being ‘child-focused’ and in line with the child’s ‘wishes and feelings’.
Additional examples we have heard include the resident parent crying every time the child mentions the non-resident parents, or trying to blackmail the child into not attending contact by, for example, organising fun trips, sleepovers with friends, and holidays on the days the child is due to have contact with the resident parent. This puts the child in an awful position – they do not want to disappoint the non-resident parent, but the opportunity to go on holiday or outing planned by the resident parent is too tempting to pass up.
There are many parents who feel that, post separation, they are being slowly but surely cut out of their child’s life. This can be a painful and worrying time, and specialist legal advice should be sought at the earliest opportunity if you believe your child is at risk of parental alienation.
I believe my co-parent is trying to alienate me from my child – what should I do?
If you are concerned that your child is at risk of alienation, you should seek legal advice. Your solicitor can make an application to court on your behalf to obtain a Child Arrangements Order, detailing the time the child is to spend with each parent. The court will then appoint a CAFCASS officer to speak with the parents, and in the event parental alienation is alleged, CAFCASS will compile a Section 7 Report where they speak to both parents and the child, to try and ascertain the facts of the case, as well as the child’s true wishes and feelings. There have been instances where, in spite of the court ordering contact between the non-resident parent and child, the other parent has blocked this from taking place, or has continued their campaign of alienation so that the child ‘refuses’ to attend contact.
As a result, the court have then ordered a ‘transfer of residence’ to the other parent, often accompanied by a period of no-contact between the child and the former resident parent. This is very drastic intervention, but are often the only avenue open to the court in order to re-establish a relationship between the alienated parent and child. Whilst it is acknowledged that the child will face short term emotional harm as a result of the transfer, it is believed that this will be outweighed by the potential long-term emotional harm they would face if left in the care of the resident parent waging a campaign of alienation. The resident parent is often blind to the fact that, whilst they are seeking to harm the relationship between the child and the other parent, it is the child who often bears the brunt of the emotional harm in the long term.
We are highly experienced in advising clients in cases of parental alienation, and we understand that not only is this a complex process, it is also an emotionally draining one. We are also experienced in cases where parental alienation is alleged unfairly, sometimes to distract from domestic abuse or as an ongoing form of post separation abuse. We are therefore committed to ensuring that you are provided with expert advice and support throughout your case, so please do contact us if you would like to discuss any concerns you may have.