What Is Parental Alienation?
Posted on 28th April 2020
Parental alienation is a term very commonly used by parents who simply cannot get on, yet if it is taking place it is a very serious matter indeed, and the sooner it is identified the better.
Parental alienation is featured more and more in the media and some may be under the impression that it is a new issue with the terms being made up by the press as a way to attract interest. Nothing could be further from the truth. Parental alienation has been identified by those involved in children’s welfare, e.g social workers, Cafcass, the Court and family lawyers, for many years, but it can be a difficult thing to prove and careful investigation has to be undertaken to enable the Court to make the correct decision.
On its website, Cafcass states that its role in these cases is to “establish the impacting alienating behaviours on the child concerned, where these are present, and to recommend to the court what referrals, intervention or support is needed to end or lessen any harmful impact”.
Unfortunately, it is possible that parental alienation could have been going on for some time before a case comes to Court and the damage to a child, and the relationship with the alienated parent, may be irreparable.
So, what is parental alienation? There is no single definition, but it is identified by Cafcass as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.
So how can parental alienation be identified. Cafcass has put together a list of behaviours in both parents and children which may indicate that parental alienation is taking place :-
Behaviour in parents trying to alienate a child
1. Making insulting remarks about the other parent to the child.
2. Placing the idea in the child that the other parent may be a danger.
3. Discussing the parental dispute and Court proceedings with the child and treating them as a “best mate” rather than a child.
4. Frustrating contact for example (i) stopping telephone calls; (ii) making contact a decision for the child to make and/or booking the child in to an activity during the time that the other parent should spend with the child; (iii) Trying to make any contact difficult, eg telephone calls in front of the child’s favourite TV programme, or just before mealtime, or in a noisy environment; (iv) encouraging the child to not want to go for contact and praising or rewarding the rejecting behaviour eg taking the child child out for the day, buying them gifts.
5. Turning the motive for the behaviour of the parent having contact into something wrong or bad, eg if the parent having contact has to discipline a child, the other parent making it clear to the child that the other parent is acting inappropriately rather than supporting the actions of the parent.
6. Not allowing anything good to be said about the other parent and/or disagreeing when such comments are made.
7. Making the child feel that they are responsible for the parent with whom they live.
Behaviour in Children
1. Change in attitude towards the alienated parent and having one-sided views.
2. Has no issue in talking about what they view as the other parent’s poor character or behaviour.
3. Negative response to behaviour of the parent which is unjustified, eg condemning the other parent for minor punishments (when such punishments have been appropriate) or if the parent makes a minor error.
4. Words of the child not matching their actions, eg saying they are scared of the parent then showing no fear during contact and enjoying their time with that parent.
5. Making comments which are almost identical to what the parent with care is saying.
6. Altering what happened in the past so that enjoyable experiences with the parent having contact are erased. A child could also mention events that it is clear they could not personally remember, eg if they were too young or were not present.
7. The child claims to be scared but comes across as aggressive, hostile and confrontational.
Proving that the parent with care is psychologically manipulating a child can be difficult, and a child may show some of the above behaviours for other reasons, however where it is a possibility it needs to be raised at the earliest opportunity as allegations raised later in the proceedings can be viewed with some suspicion. In addition, the longer that the alienation continues, the more damage could be caused, and relationships could be lost for a long time, even forever.
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