Parental Alienation Syndrome

Parental alienation syndrome is growing concern and consideration for parents who separate on unamicable terms.

Divorce and separation can often lead to feelings of hatred and betrayal. These often arise in the couple that are separating. Such feelings can offer increase and cause a friction between the separating couple. Knowingly or unknowingly the bitterness and feelings between a couple may spill into other relations causing a negative effect.

Our child law specialist carefully assess a case concerning how the feelings and actions of adults impact children.

Article Contents

What is parental alienation?

There is no real definition of parental alienation. It is recognised as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other. Essentially it is the reason as to why a child may refuse to spend time with one parent post their separation or divorce.

What are signs of parental alienation?

A parent who is concerned that their children are becoming alienated should look out for the following signs which our parental alienation lawyers have noted over the years:

  • Extreme negative views towards them. Children may also deny past positive experience and interest in improving the relationship.
  • Seeing one parent as goof and the other as all bad.
  • Siding with the favoured parent despite anything they do or say.
  • Lack of remorse for hurting their feelings
  • Claiming to reject them with no influence from the other parent
  • Repeating the other parents’ words which they use towards you without understanding them.
  • Become hostile towards your family and friends.

How to spot early signs of parental alienation?

Quite often a child will display early signs of parental alienation. These usually are where the child is excluding one parent from their life. This can be quite simple from requesting the parent not to come to their extra-curricular activities or school meetings and parent evenings. A child may also become argumentative and fail to recognise the love and affection which was previously provided by the parent in question.

A child may state they don’t want to see you as much, have overnight contact or see you at all. Quite often children can become withdrawn and reluctant to talk to you. Another early sign of parental alienation is where your child may start calling you by your name rather than “mummy or daddy”. It could be quite difficult for parents when their child is acting like a complete stranger, but action must be taken as soon as early signs emerge to prevent further damage.

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

According to the Independent, Parental alienation syndrome is a term developed in the 1980’s by a child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner.

Parental alienation syndrome is where one parent attempts to turn the child from a relationship against the other parent. This usually takes place where one parent is angry at the other parent and paints a negative image of the other parent. This can be done by certain comments, blaming the other parent or false accusation against the other parent.

Parental alienation syndrome is a form of psychological abuse. It impacts both the child and the parent who is alienated. This syndrome is now widely recognised in the UK. According to CAFCASS parental alienation is ‘when a child’s hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent’.

Is parental alienation a crime?

Although parental alienation is becoming widely recognised in the United Kingdom, it is not a criminal offence. A petition was created to introduce a law that recognises parental alienation as a criminal offence. Unfortunately the government decided against this. In their response they stated “We do not believe that it is necessary to introduce a criminal offence against parents who alienate their child against the other parent as the court can take effective action against such behaviour”.

Can divorce be related to parental alienation syndrome?

Parental alienation syndrome is common occurrence in families in which divorce has been taken place. South African divorce statistics confirm that where seven out of ten children are from a divorce household in some of these households parental alienation aspects are present. Furthermore the University of Granada has also noted that one of four children involved in divorce and custody undergo parental alienation.

It therefore could be seen that divorce can be related to parental alienation syndrome. Quite often if a divorce is acrimonious or hostile could lead to parental alienation. One parent may feel hard done and their emotions may lead them to wanting revenge. This revenge could usually take in the form of them alienating the child against the other parent.

What are the signs of parental alienation evolving?

Parental alienation is usually carried out by one parent to punish the other parent for their wrongdoings. Parental alienation is a syndrome which usually develops over time. However studies have found there are early signs which may suggest parental alienation evolving. The initial signs which may come to light are:

  • Where one parent promotes anger towards the other parent. This can be done by negative comments or remarks. It also involves criticism of the other parent Infront of the child.
  • Attempting to promote anger indirectly. This is usually carried out by making negative and angry comments about the other parent knowing the child will be listening. By doing this the alienating parent attempts to portray a good image of themselves in front of the child, yet indirectly promotes hatred.
  • Sending negative messages to the child about the other parent. This can usually be monitored through the body language of the alienating parent. They may express their dislike through rolling of the eyes, shaking their head or dismissive gestures.
  • Making false allegations of abuse and harm against the other parent. This could be by telling the child of an abuse whether it be physical or psychological which may not have taken place. This could lead to feeling of hatred in the child for the alienated parent.
  • Refusing to co-parent reasonably. This takes place where the alienating parent refuses to be around the other parent in front of the child. The alienating parent may make false accusations of the other parent being angry and how they don’t like being around them. Of course, such accusations may be false but go a long way in developing negative feelings in a child.

As well as the signs of parental alienation syndrome evolving in an alienating parent, there may be early signs of alienation in the child. These usually are where the child is excluding one parent from their life. This can be quite simple from requesting the parent not to come to their extra-curricular activities or school meetings and parent evenings. A child may also become argumentative and fail to recognise the love and affection which was previously provided by the parent in question.

What are Parental Alienation Syndrome symptoms?

There are many symptoms of parental alienation syndrome. The most common symptoms are:

  • This is where the child repeatedly complains about one parent over and over again.
  • Frivolous rationalization for the complaint. This where the child cannot provide a justification or valid reason for their complaint against one parent. The child will usually provide a silly reason for not wanting to see the alienated parent.
  • Lack of ambivalence. Whilst each person will have some good qualities and some bad, the child fails to recognise these. The child will only talk negatively about the alienated parent and will only speak good about the parent who is alienating.
  • Absence of guilt. This is where a child is disrespectful and can say or do horrible things to one parent. They will not have any regard for that parent feelings or emotions. Children in this situation will not feel guilty of their actions.
  • Spread of animosity. This occurs where a child has so much hatred and animosity for the alienated parent that it spreads to other people associated with that parent. This feeling extends regardless of whether those in question have done anything wrong or not.
  • Automatic support. Children will always end up favouring the alienating parent regardless of the situation or the disagreement in question.
  • Independent thinker phenomenon. Children experiencing this symptom will state they have individually developed such feeling against the alienated parent and have not been influenced by anyone.

 

How are children impacted by parental alienation?

It is widely noted that parental alienation is seen as a serious mental condition for children which is based on a belief that the alienated parent is dangerous and unworthy. Children could develop low self-esteem, self-hatred, lack of trust, depression and substance abuse and addiction. Children may also lose the capacity to give and accept love to and from the alienated parent. Alienated children could develop conflicted or distant relationships with the alienating parent too. Children who suffer from parental alienation are also at high risk of becoming alienated from their own children.

Parental alienation impact on children’s behaviour

Parental alienation not only can damage a child psychologically, but it can also affect their day to day and behaviours. Children who experience parental alienation syndrome offer find changes in their behaviour. Parental alienation lawyers over the years have noted the following change in behaviour:

  • Alienated children offer suffer from loneliness and isolation. This could have the effect of children having a lack of friends.
  • Children suffering from parental alienation will often end up in conflicts, either with their parents or others around them.
  • Many children will also encounter sleep problems.
  • Alienated children are more likely to develop poor eating habits which could lead to eating disorders and weight loss or gain.
  • Alienated children are also likely to perform worse in schools and other activities.

If parental alienation can be identified early, then parents have the opportunity to limit the effects on a child. If you are a concerned parent and would like to prevent the above effects on your child contact us today for a consultation on how to tackle parental alienation.

Preventing Parental Alienation

Parental alienation can seriously damage one parents relationship with the child. By noting the above signs and changes in behaviour of a child parental alienation can be tackled and prevented. Our parental alienation lawyers have compiled the following steps which can help you fight parental alienation syndrome.

Keep a journal – it is important to note the dates that the custodial parent has stopped your contact with the child together with the reasons. By noting this down you could assess whether it is a one off issue or it continually becoming a habit. If the matter reaches court, you could provide specific dates as evidence of you attempting contact and the continual excuses of the custodial parent or child.

Challenge the other parent – If failed contact is becoming common and frequent you must speak to the custodial parent and child to identify any issues. Again, you must note down the responses so you can present this to the court if this behaviour doesn’t stop.

Ask to see the child in writing – You could communicate with the custodial parent via text message or email. This would be ideal evidence to prove your desire to see the child. This form of written communication can help you catch your ex-partner in a lie and help to show they are using excuses to deny child contact.

Seek Counselling – A therapist would be able to identify and end alienation. IT also provides additional support to your case if the matter proceeds to court. Showing you have taken positive steps strengthens your position and inviting your former partner to attend will illustrate you are working to co-parent effectively.

It is important to note that your child needs the love and support of both parents which is their right. In order to prevent parental alienation, you need to keep fighting to ensure there is no damaging effect to your child or your relationship with them.

Benefits of getting early legal advice from a child custody lawyer dealing with parental alienation

It is extremely important for a parent who notices the signs or symptoms of parental alienation to obtain legal advice. Obtaining early advice may prevent or delay further harm being done. Involving a family lawyer could be beneficial. The alienating parent may feel threatened by legal action or discussion. This may prevent them from carrying out parental alienation further.

Furthermore, obtaining legal advice early could mean you are able to amicably save the relationship you have with your child. This could also means your child or you do not suffer further from the psychological effects of parental alienation.

The impact of parental alienation if it becomes too late

If steps are not taken to deal with the syndrome early, it could have severe impacts on both the child and the alienated parent. For the affected children parental alienation is a serious mental condition. It is based on false beliefs that that alienated parent is dangerous and unworthy.  The effects of this on children include low self-esteem and self-hatred, lack of trust and depression. It is also noted children experiencing this symptom are more likely to engage in substance abuse and other forms of addiction. Children who are the victims of parental alienation are at a risk of being alienated by their own children.

In relation to the alienated parent they are often subjected to shame and stigma, lack of access to their children, and devaluation of their role as parents. This often leads to the alienated parent suffering from psychological effects such as stress and depression. It is therefore important that action is taken early against parental alienation syndrome. This is to ensure the children and alienated parents do not suffer further harm which could seriously impact their lives.

How to prove parental alienation syndrome

Proving the psychological harms of parental alienation may seem daunting given that unlike physical abuse parental alienation leaves no mark. So how do you prove parental alienation.

The first step to proving parental alienation is the witnesses. In a case of parental alienation both the alienated parent as well as the alienating parents. The children who is subject to alienation is also a witness. Other witnesses who may be able to help prove alienation can be relatives, family and friends or therapists and doctors who have become aware of the situation.

The second step to proving this syndrome is documentation. This could be in the form of messages or written communication between both parents and social media posts. What could also be relevant is any diaries or the journals of the child. If children write journals there may be some form of evidence which proves how they feel they are being brainwashed by the alienating parent or notes of what lead to this.

Such evidence once gathered could help prove parental alienation. This could be used to resolve any issues either outside of court or during a court process.      

Dealing with parental alienation without going through a family court

If the issues of parental alienation come to light, parents may be able to resolve such issues without going through a family court. In order for this to happen the parents would need to arrange for a discussion to take place. Parents should ensure they clarify any misunderstandings between them. Clarifying issues can prevent further damage to the child being caused.

If parents can mutually agree and resolve issues it could mean that any contact which has been stopped may be able to continue. This would allow both the child and the alienated parent to begin the process of regrouping and salvaging their relationship.

Dealing with parental alienation through the family court

As a result of parental alienation, a child’s contact with the alienated parent will probably cease. Therefore if you are a concerned parent who is looking to deal with parental alienation through the family court, you will initially need to make an application for child contact.

During this process it is important you highlight the issues of parental alienation syndrome which have been identified. The courts will usually list the matter for an initially hearing which gives both parents to try and reach an agreement. At this hearing you can portray your courts of alienation to the family court. The family will then instruct for CAFCASS to carry out safeguarding checks. CAFCASS have introduced a framework to deal with parental alienation. If they are able to identify this exists then together with the help of psychologists they will prepare a report with their finding.

At a final hearing the judge will consider all the evidence before them and decide upon whether parental alienation exists and the extent of this. If parental alienation is found, there are many options available to the court. These are:

  • Contempt of court – A court can find the alienating parent in contempt of court and impose sanctions against them.
  • Custody modification – This is where the courts change the physical or legal custody of the child if they believe the alienation is causing harm. The courts can order the custody to the alienated parent to avoid further harm being caused.
  • Reunification therapy – this is the most common option which is utilised. Counsellors become involved with the family in an attempt to counsel both the parent and the child to reunify the child with the alienating parent.

How to take steps to avoid parental alienation

A parent who is being alienated can take steps to avoid parental alienation. This can effectively be done by communicating with the other parent. If misunderstandings can be cleared this may prevent further damage being done. Parents are also encouraged to keep a journal of what is happening. If there is a change in routine such as a change in contact this should be noted and raised with the other parent.

If the other parent restricts contact with the child for no valid reason you can request contact in writing. This could be a formal request and could be used as evidence if the matter proceeds to the family court.

The alienated parent needs to remain persistent. Regardless of whether your contact has been blocked or you are ignored by the alienating parent you should continue trying, Failing to try may result int the child believing that you do not care for them and will strengthen their concerns and allow the alienating parent to prove they were right.

Can parental alienation be stopped? 

Parental alienation can be stopped. With the appropriate support a parent can stop parental alienation syndrome. If your case is proceeding through a family court you can let them know of the issues so they are addressed early. Furthermore CAFCASS can be contacted who will be able to assess both parents and the child to identify alienation. If parental alienation is identified CAFCASS can report their findings to the court and address the issues with the alienating parent.

Our family law advisors consider a recent case below. In this case parental alienation was an issue and illustrates the consequences a parent can face if they are using their child as a tool for their benefit.

The impact of grandparent alienation on children 

Alienation in children could affect the children’s relationship with their grandparents. Grandparent alienation could affect grandchildren in the following way:

  • Depression- Grandchildren may feel powerless and hopeless about not communicating with their grandparents
  • Helplessness – children may be unable to protect themselves from control of their parents.
  • Confusion – Children will often fail to understand about family relationships and what is a normal family environment.
  • Guilt – Grandchildren often feel guilty and responsible for not being able to love their grandparents as they would have liked.
  • Fear – Grandchildren who have been alienated from grandparents may have anxiety of loss or death or parent or grandparent.

Grandparents can provide stability as well as financial support to children. Grandparents can also assist in the grandchildren in coping with their parents divorce and separation. Preventing a child from having access to their grandparents can often lead to children being psychologically damaged. At Kabir Family Law we have assisted many grandparents in securing rights to see their children and together we can ensure that grandparent alienation is prevented.  

Mother removes child from the family home

Re B (change of residence; parental alienation) concerns a 9 year child who has been subject to three years of litigation. The parents of the child were married and lived together before separating in 2013 when the child was 5 years old. An alleged assault took place on the 13th September 2013. The child got up and went into her parent’s room at about 6am and wanted her father to read or play with her. The father asked her to go back to bed. She stamped her feet, so he picked her up and put her into bed. She struggled and, at some point, her leg was scratched.

In response the mother came in shouting asking the father to leave the room. The mother claims she felt scared for both her and her child’s safety. Following the argument, the father later went to work and by the time he returned home the mother and the child had left.

Parents reach agreement for child contact

Following the separation and with the help of a friend, the parents agreed that the father would move out of the family home and the mother would move back in with the children. The mother was also to allow contact to the father. The father later changed his mind on moving out after a few weeks and the mother stopped contact as a result.

The father applied for contact with the child which the mother refused stating the child was traumatised. The judge however did not agree and was of the opinion together with Cafcass that the child was not traumatised. The judge noted that the mother and their other children gave the impression that the father lost his control and was a risk, but they noted the mother also lost her control at times. It is surprising to note that the contact had failed for almost 14 months.

Father makes application for the residence of the child

Following the failed contact, the father made an application for the residence of the child. A psychological assessment found the child did not have PTSD and was not traumatised as the mother alleged. The psychologist noted the mother mentioned why the child did not want to see her dad, how the child was having nightmares and she took every opportunity to criticise the father.

The psychologist was also of the opinion that “From a psychological perspective there is no reason why the father would not be able to meet the child’s needs. I would therefore say that unless the mother does demonstrate a dramatic sea change and start meeting the child’s needs by properly supporting her in re-establishing a proper relationship with her father then I would have no hesitation in suggesting and supporting a change of residence to the father or making a referral myself to the Local Authority”.

The psychologist was of the opinion the distress and emotional disturbance the child is experiencing is as a result of having a relationship and secure attachment, with her father eroded away and finding herself in a situation in which she feels she has no choice but to reject him and align herself with her mother.”

Mother has option to repair relationship or avoid contact

The judge noted that a mother reading that could go one of two ways. She could repair the relationship or continue damaging the relationship to avoid any contact for the father, and the judge felt the mother had gone down the second root to avoid contact between the child and the father.

In reaching its conclusion the court noted:

  • This child continues to suffer harm in her mother’s care. If this continued without contact with her father, she will continue to suffer harm and the outcomes of parental alienation will come to pass.
  • The risks of harm from the child not seeing her father are very clear. There will be no meaningful relationship if she stays with her mother. She is not a happy child and her mother has not put her welfare first. If the child has her main home with her mother, she will continue to suffer harm as the mother does not have the ability or willingness to put her daughter’s needs first.
  • There are risks in a move to the father. It is possible it will not work. The child deserves a chance to be happy again and to have a relationship with her father. The judge felt the father can meet the child’s needs including the need for a relationship with her mother. If the child stays where she is, she will suffer harm.

The judge therefore ordered a change in residence in favour of the father and noted the child must have contact with her mother once she is settled. She needs to repair her relationship with her father first, though, and her mother must not undermine that.

Can you lose custody for parental alienation?

Over the years parental alienation has been rising. Many judges have had to deal with this issue in recent child law cases. The Guardian has reported that parents could be denied contact with their child and lose child custody if they try to turn their child against their former parent. Cafcass have trialled this process given that they have realised that parental alienation syndrome is present in significant numbers of the 125,000 cases it deals with each year. The Case of Re B (change of residence; parental alienation) is a further example of this in which a child was removed from the alienating parent’s custody.

The new Cafcass approach initially provides alienating parents the opportunity to alter their behaviour with therapy. If alienating parents fail to respond they will not be allowed to have their children with them. Additionally, contact between the alienating parent and child could also be refused for a number of months.

Question and Answer Section

Is a child’s refusal for contact always related to parental alienation syndrome?

It is important to distinguish between parental alienation syndrome and other reasons why a child may say that they do not wish to spend time with a parent. These can include:

  • post-separation rejection – this is usually a temporary reaction to the changing family situation
  • justified rejection – this could be where child has been harmed by a parent or is frightened of them because of domestic abuse or other harmful parenting, such as neglect or substance misuse.
  • affinity/alignment – where a child prefers spending time with one parent over the other. This can develop before/during/after separation.
  • harmful conflict – where the parents actively disagree with each other and are unable to put the needs of the child first. This varies in intensity/impact.

Therefore parents must carefully understand whether the feelings of children have changed due to parental alienation or other reasons. Parental alienation must be taken seriously to avoid causing serious harm to your child.

What is the long-term Impact of Parental Alienation 

The long term impact of parental alienation is well documented. These effects may not become clear until the child is maturing. These impacts include children suffering from low self-esteem, self-hatred, abandonment issues, lack of trust depression and are more likely to have substance abuse or addictions. The child will tend to internalise the hatred targeted toward the alienated parent and will begin believing the alienated parent did not want them or love them.

What is the importance of getting early legal advice to tackle parental alienation

It is important to tackle parental alienation syndrome at the earliest possible convenience. This is to ensure it does not cause severe damage to a parent’s relationship with the child. Parental alienation lawyers have the ability to attempt to speak or formally write to the alienating parent. This can often cause them to respond to your request to contact positively. Parental alienation lawyers can also act as mediators to attempt to understand the reasons for a change in behaviour in the child parent relationship and resolve the parental alienation syndrome early. At Kabir Family Law we can also assist you in finding and contacting a therapist who will be able to identify parental alienation and attempt to prevent this psychological abuse. Furthermore, we can assist you in preparing your case for the Family Court if all other actions fail.

Arrange a free consultation to see how we can support you fight and combat parental alienation syndrome today 

We are proud to have a strong child law department who have track record of success of dealing with parental alienation cases.

Contact us today on 0330 094 5880 or let us call you back to arrange an initial no obligation consultation.

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