Parental Alienation: “My child is being taught to hate me”

Category: Children, Divorce, Family

Parental alienation is a term that would cause many separated parents to raise an eyebrow in confusion. Its name is not part of everyday understanding of family law; people don’t know what it is. In my experience, parental alienation’s best described as a feeling. And it’s a feeling many parents will have experienced without knowing its name.

So, what do we mean?

Do you feel that your child is being turned against you by the other parent?

Is the other parent teaching your child to hate or speak badly of you?

Or are negative conversations about you taking place within earshot of your child?

It’s common knowledge that this behaviour happens and I would say it is probably far more common than people realise. However, the term ‘parental alienation’ is yet to pierce the veil of every-day conversation and understanding.

Domestic abuse is easily recognisable when someone’s beaten by their partner. This is an every-day term that people are comfortable with assigning to a particular set of behaviours. Yet parental alienation has not reached that point yet. It’s not a term that people are comfortable with attaching to people’s behaviour.

If a person is being domestically abused, it’s universally accepted that there is no justification. However, if a parent speaks badly of the other parent in front of the child or even schools the child to actively dislike the other parent, a justification is seemingly found.

These justifications vary. However, they often involve one parent being upset with the other due to breakups or new partners on the scene. Does this make it okay? Categorically no. Absolutely not.

What is parental alienation?

Rather unhelpfully, there is no fixed or single definition of parental alienation. Broadly speaking, it’s the concept of a child rejecting a parent with whom they had previously had a positive relationship through no fault of that parent or the child and seemingly without reason.

Cafcass, the government body tasked with assisting the Courts in Children Matter proceedings, defines parental alienation as follows:

“when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

At present, it is largely Cafcass’ responsibility for identifying cases where parental alienation is present. Yet, Cafcass will only become involved in a matter when the matter reaches the Court room. Often, this is after months (or even years) of alienating behaviour and can be too late. That’s why it’s so important that we identify parental alienation as soon as possible.

There is a responsibility on parents, professionals and lawyers to become more familiar with the concept. And they need to be comfortable with identifying parental alienation too. If they do, then before it’s too late, the relationship can be rescued.

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Behavioural Traits

There is no exhaustive list of behaviours that would fall under the definition of parental alienation. Describing it as a feeling though, is often the best way to know it’s happening:

Does a parent feel as though their child is withdrawing from them?

Is their relationship becoming less positive?

And does that parent feel as though this is being directly or indirectly encouraged by the other parent?

If they answer Yes to each question, then it could well be an issue of parental alienation.

Examples of parental alienation

Typically, behaviours include:

  • Negative comments about the other parent;
  • Encouraging disrespect or defiance towards the other parent;
  • Blaming the other parent for their own feelings of loss;
  • Being unable to separate their child’s needs from their own;
  • Manipulating a child into unquestioning loyalty for one parent, to the detriment of the other;
  • Isolating, corrupting, exploiting or denying emotional responses to create a belief that the other parent is dangerous or untrustworthy.

Parental alienation often presents itself as a reluctance from the child to spend time with the parent without reason. It can also be blatant. In other words, the child repeating negative comments that the alienating parent has said to them or about them.

It’s important to remember that just because a child shows typical behaviours, it’s not automatically because they have been alienated. Children can, by nature, be fickle; they can choose a favourite parent; they can be stubborn and as they grow older, they frequently exercise their free will.

It’s worth being comfortable with the idea of parental alienation so it can be identified quickly if it does happen.  It’s also worth seeking some initial advice from a lawyer for a professional opinion. They can give you guidance on whether or not the child is being exposed to alienating behaviours.

Ways to prevent parental alienation

If this is happening to you or you’re concerned it might happen in the future, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled a list of 5 simple steps to help prevent and stop parental alienation to put you in a good position to challenge the alienation. Click the image below to view the guide:

Early intervention

I cannot stress enough how important it is to intervene as quickly as possible. If you suspect your child is the victim of parental alienation, you should seek legal advice as soon as you can. This can help to avoid further damage to the relationship.

If parental alienation is allowed to continue unchallenged, it can result in a complete breakdown of the relationship. One consequence is that the alienated parent may no longer play a role in the child’s life.

If a child feels forced into repairing the relationship with the alienated parent, it can cause a ‘backfire’ effect. This encourages the child’s negative feelings further, and before long, the child wishes to return to the alienating parent.

Research shows that a lot of alienated children will seek to repair the relationship later in life. This is often because of some simply growing older and understanding life more. It can also be because they realise what happened when they were younger.

Without doubt, in order to avoid the risk of the ‘backfire’ effect, early intervention is vitally important.

Parental alienation and the law

Sadly, there’s no provision in UK law for the Courts to specifically deal with parental alienation. But the law is broad enough to allow the Court to determine the suitable remedy on a case-by-case basis.

If parental alienation is suspected, then a Children Act 1989 application can be made to the court. This can unfortunately produce inconsistent and unreliable results. It can often affect the legal advice a lawyer gives someone who suspects their child is being alienated. However, it means the Court can step in if it believes it is appropriate to do so. Cafcass would play a vital role in this.

Cafcass have developed tools to assist them in their assessments of children; these tools allow Cafcass to identify alienating behaviours from working directly with the children. Cafcass can then report to the Court about the outcome of the assessment and provide recommendations as to the best next step. In particularly serious cases of parental alienation, the Court might order that the child should be removed from the care of the alienating parent and placed with the alienated parent to prevent a further deterioration of their relationship and further emotional harm to the child.

It’s important that the professionals and the public talk about parental alienation and remain aware of it. As said above, it is inevitable that society is aware of these behaviours. However, it is clear society doesn’t know its name: it’s parental alienation and it is damaging and dangerous.

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What to do next?

If you feel that your child has been subject to this kind of behaviour please get in touch. We’re here to help you. There is a solution to this behaviour. Call a member of our Family team on 01752 827030 or email Becky Turnock at [email protected]. Alternatively, you can request a call back by filling out our contact form.