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Parental alienation: how to recognise it and what steps to take

In her latest article, Sarah Snow, Partner in our Private Client team, looks at the concept of Parental Alienation and its impact upon children and couples who are in the process of separation.

What does Parental Alienation mean?

Whilst there is no definitive definition, the term is typically taken to refer to a situation where one parent is so hostile to the child having contact with the other parent, that they take whatever steps necessary to turn the child’s emotions against the other parent. This may include the following:-

  • Frustrating or being extremely difficult around contact arrangements, which could include breaching court orders.
  • Barraging the child with negative attitudes and/or comments about the other parent.
  • Failing to support, promote or encourage contact and openly undermining the relationship.
  • Failure to respond to the child’s emotional needs, dismissing or exploiting their feelings.
  • Creating a false narrative about the other parent, maligning, denigrating, ridiculing, or dismissing them in front of, or directly to, the child.

Essentially, the steps taken above may manipulate the child into aligning themselves to one parent. Each situation will be different, so a nuanced approach is required when looking at a specific child and whether they are being subjected to alienating tactics.

What can I do if I believe Parental Alienation is taking place?

The courts are now more aware of Parental Alienation, with the phrase becoming more widely used by Judges, who recognise that intervention is required to protect children against such manipulation and emotional abuse.

It is important to try and recognise the alienation as early as possible, to avoid the child becoming so entrenched in their view and suffering extreme emotional harm.

  • Consider therapeutic intervention, for example appointing a child counsellor to work with your child or a family mediator to work with the whole family, via Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM). If caught early enough, it may be possible that the parent employing such tactics can recognise the potential emotional harm they could inflict on their child.
  • If this is not possible and the behaviour of the parent is already posing a significant threat to the welfare of the child, you may wish to bring an application for a Child Arrangements Order before the court. In this application you can file a separate Supplemental Information Form (C1A), in which you can set out your allegations with specific examples of what you consider to be alienating behaviours.
  • It may be appropriate for the court to appoint a Children’s Guardian to provide independent representation for the rights and interests of the child.
  • You may ask the court to consider the appointment of an expert psychologist to work with the child and the parent. They would then feedback their opinions and recommendations to the court.
  • You will also likely ask the court to list what is called a Fact Finding Hearing, to consider the evidence in the case, including any expert reports, and make a finding on whether there is parental alienation.
  • Family Court Advisors, may be directed by the court to prepare a welfare report. They use guidance known as the CAFCASS Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) to identify how children are experiencing parental separation and to assess the impact of any alienating behaviours. This will include an assessment of the reasons for the child’s resistance to contact.

What can the court do if it is found that there is a campaign of Parental Alienation?

In extreme cases the court can order a change of residence. Whilst there may be some short term harm to the child due to such a significant change, this must be balanced against the emotional harm being caused due to the Parental Alienation.

Sarah is an experienced family lawyer based predominantly in our York office. She has been practicing in this area of law for over 14 years and has a broad range of experience in dealing with divorce, separation and complex financial applications and private children applications.

For help and advice on relationship breakdown, or any other private client matter, please get in touch with Sarah by calling 01482 325242 or emailing

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