Parental Alienation

What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation is a term which arises frequently in the context of child contact disputes. But what does it mean? And how do the courts deal with it?

Sometimes during the course of a child contact dispute, a child expresses strong negative views about one of their parents (usually, but not exclusively, the non-resident parent). Often, this will involve the child refusing or resisting contact with that parent.  This can be extremely difficult for the parent in question.   It can also be worrying from a legal perspective, given that the court will consider the “ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child” when they are determining a child contact dispute.  Accordingly, if a child starts expressing strong negative views about a parent, this could potentially damage a parent’s chance of obtaining the contact pattern they are seeking.

Sometimes there is a clear reason why a child is resistant to contact.  However, parental alienation occurs when this hostility towards one parent has come about as a result of the other parent’s manipulation of the child.   If this is shown to be the case, the courts have to carefully consider the weight they will give to the expressed views of the child.  They will also have to give consideration to the harm that the child may be suffering as a result of the alienating parent, and how this should be tackled.

What do I do if I suspect parental alienation?

In the case where a parent suspects parental alienation is taking place, this should be raised with the court as soon as possible.  If the court considers that there is a risk of parental alienation, they will ordinarily defer to social workers for their expert opinion on the child’s welfare.  This could either be a CAFCASS social worker or a local authority social worker.

The social worker will often speak to the child separately, and will try to ascertain the root of their negative feelings towards their parent.  They will also speak to both parents, and sometimes other key adults in the child’s life.  In doing so, they will try to build a clear picture of what has been happening, and the reasons for the child’s expressed negative views.

How do the courts deal with parental alienation?

The courts take the view that generally speaking, it is in the child’s interests to have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents.  If the courts consider that a child is at ongoing risk of parental alienation, they have a wide range of powers.   They may order the parent (or parents) to attend a parenting course, or seek undertakings from the parent that they won’t speak negatively about the other parent in the presence of the child.  If contact has stopped completely, the court may try to reintroduce it gradually and ease the child back into a relationship with the parent.

As a last resort, it is in the court’s power to transfer residence of the child from the “alienating” parent, so that the child will go to live with the “alienated” parent.  The purpose of this is to ensure that the child can have a relationship with both of their parents.  Having said that, transfer of residence of a child is an extreme measure, which the courts would only use rarely and in serious cases of prolonged and unrelenting parental alienation.  The court’s main priority will always be the child’s best interests.

For more information on your child contact dispute, please contact Sarah Mortimer on 020 7034 4210 or

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