In many instances of separation and divorce, where children are involved, parental alienation is a factor amongst parents.

In this resource we take a look at what parental alienation is, how it can affect the children involved and how it can be identified.

Why do children resist spending time with a parent?

There can be a number of causes as to why a child becomes resistant to spending time with a parent/carer once a separation has taken place but the most common, is as a result of parental alienation.  Professionals involved with children’s welfare have been aware of this for some time, especially within family law proceedings, and it is now coming to the fore.  The complexity of parental alienation makes it hard for the courts to make decisions at times and so a combination of detailed assessment and balanced decision making are utilized in these instances, as the impact of such decisions can be lifechanging for both the parent and child involved.

What is the definition of parental alienation?

The definition of parental alienation is generally recognised as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.  Other risk factors such as domestic abuse for example, must be ruled out before establishing it as reason as to why a child may resist spending time with a parent after the parents have separated.

What are the typical behaviours in parental alienation?

Alienating behaviours can be varied and in turn have a varying impact upon the child involved. Both men and women can demonstrate such behaviors such as a parent badmouthing or putting down the other parent, the limiting of contact, refusing to discuss the other parent with the child etc. and whilst it can come from one parent only, it often results from a combination of behaviours and attitudes. These can come from both parents and ultimately lead to a child resisting spending time with the other person.

Other behaviours such as isolating, corrupting, spurning etc. can cause a child to feel that the other parent is dangerous or untrustworthy and as a result, children can adapt their own behaviours to the parent that is alienating the other, to meet their own attachment needs (Baker, 2010).  Despite this, most alienated children will still have strongly held views of their own along with the views that they have been coached to have.  In these cases, the courts can work towards rehabilitation and re-establishing the relationship between the child and the alienated parent.

How CAFCASS can help

The CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service) Child Impact Assessment Framework helps to identify the children at risk of parental alienation as well as how they are experiencing and feeling towards the parental separation.  By helping the courts to understand the impact that it has had on the child and the behaviours of the adults, helps to identify what the child needs to recover. The recovery of the child requires, where possible, the support of both parents.

Where alienating behaviours have been identified, a judgement is made as to whether it is safe and in the best interest of the child to have contact with either one or both of the parents.  Risk factors, assessments, diversity issues and the vulnerability of the child are all taken into consideration whereupon a judge will make the final decision as to the contact the child will have with each parent.

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