Family Law Bulletin 3: Parental Alienation


Parental Alienation is a topic which has increasingly become the centre of discussion over recent years. In the mid 1980’s, the American child-psychiatrist, Richard Gardner, classified the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome as a “disturbance in which children are obsessed with deprecation and criticism of a parent – denigration that is unjustified and / or exaggerated”.

There has been a great deal written on this subject since and parental alienation is a concept which has become progressively more recognised in the UK.

Whilst there is no one definition, Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) recognise parental alienation to be “When a child’s resistance / hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”.   

Research has shown that a child’s reaction to their parents’ separation is heavily influenced by the adult conduct to which they are exposed. Hostility between parents at the time of separation can sadly, in some cases, extend to negative and harmful behaviour demonstrated by one parent which adversely impacts the relationship the other parent has with the child or children of the family.

Parental alienation is essentially a form of psychological abuse which impacts both the child or children of the family and the other parent. The parent who is negatively influencing the child or children of the family may be knowingly doing so, to cause the child to reject the other parent, or they may have unfounded and unjustifiable concerns, perhaps as a result of a personality disorder, which can have the same damaging effect.

The reasons for parental alienation are often complex, requiring specialist assistance to identify and hopefully resolve.

 It is not uncommon for parents who have had, until the time of separation, loving and committed relationships with their child or children, to struggle to maintain a relationship with them following separation, as a result of the harmful behaviour exhibited by the other parent.

The Child Impact Assessment Framework is now in place to assist Cafcass, involved in such cases, to report to the court. It is important that the underlying causes for any rejection / alienation are examined and the risks identified as a priority.

The court will generally wish to ensure that the child or children of the family experience a direct relationship with both parents, unless there is very good reason not to, and in some cases a court  may be persuaded to change the parent with whom the child or children of the family reside.

It is however important to recognise that every case is different and whilst parental alienation is a live issue, there may also be other reasons why a particular parent’s relationship with a child or children has deteriorated. These may include; separation anxiety (from one parent); justifiable rejection such as a result of being harmed by the parent; temporary post-separation rejection or as a result of actively hostile parenting and the inability to prioritise the needs of the child or children of the family.   

Ultimately, the court will always prioritise the needs of the child or children of the family above all else.

If you or a loved one is in need of legal advice in relation to children matters or separation or divorce take advantage of our complimentary, no obligations consultation where you can meet with one of our Family Law experts and find out what the next best course of action for you and your family is to secure your future.  Be proactive and call us today on 0800 999 4437 or email enquiries@parfittcresswell.com and one of our friendly team will be happy to assist you.