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Parental alienation and what to do about it

By Emma Davey

Published In: Family

Parental alienation describes the actions of a parent to undermine their child’s relationship with the other parent. These actions can cause a child to resist or even reject the other parent. For example, one parent may talk about the other negatively to the child. They may try to manipulate the in to believing something that is not true and is harmful for the child to hear, for example, that the other parent does not love them.

Parental alienation has featured in the news recently in the context of the family court. Some of the articles that we have seen are somewhat sensationalised. Ultimately, the court will act in the best interests of the child, and proceedings involving parental alienation can be extremely complex. Proceedings involving children are also strictly confidential. For this reason, it is possible that some of the detail and nuances may be missed in cases that have been reported in the press. Indeed, the Family Justice Council have published guidance on how the court should manage cases where allegations of parental alienation have been made.

Alienating behaviours can be extremely damaging to the other parent’s relationship with their child, which could result in complete rejection of the parent by the child. The Family Justice Council state that the alienation must be evidenced. Additionally, the fact that a child is resistant to spending time with a parent does not automatically mean that the child has been exposed to alienating behaviours.[2] It is possible that some children  may prefer one parent for a time, but this does not necessarily mean that the preferred parent is alienating the other. Parental alienation is taken seriously by the court, and in some cases, it is possible that the court may impose sanctions or penalties if the court determines that parental alienation has occurred or that it is occurring. Ultimately, the court may also consider the need to remove a child from the care of one parent if alienation is found to be an issue, in order to prevent further harm.

Parental alienation is a controversial topic, particularly in the context of domestic abuse allegations. Some parents involved in family court proceedings are reported to have suffered as a result of a legitimate perpetrator of domestic abuse accusing them of alienating the child.[3]  In such cases , it may be that the child’s negative feelings towards the abuser are as a result of the abuse that they have witnessed. A psychiatrist may need to be considered to report on whether  alienation is taking place, and to recommend to the court how to proceed moving forward with the child’s care.

If you suspect that your child’s parent may be engaging in alienating behaviour, or if you would like further details please get in touch with one of our family law experts. Call 0800 138 0458 or email

[2]  Family Justice Council Consultation: Draft Guidance on Responding to allegations of alienating behaviour

[3]  Women’s aid ‘Parental alienation’: a dangerous and harmful concept

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Emma has been a qualified solicitor for one year.  She works in Switalskis' Family department.


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