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When parents separate there is a risk that one parent will behave in a manner that attempts to isolate and separate a child from the other parent, this is often known as parental alienation. 

This behaviour can result in a child resisting or refusing to spend time with the other parent due to the manipulation they have received from the alienating parent.

How do you identify alienating behaviour?

The alienating parent’s behaviour can be obvious and extreme, conversely it may also be subtle or disguised. Examples of manipulation causing Parental Alienation may include isolating the child from the other parent, sharing negative or hostile views of the other parent, or denying emotional responsiveness to the child.

The alienating parent can create false belief in the child that the alienated parent is dangerous or unworthy. The manipulation need not be malicious or deliberate, but the effect is that the child will be unwilling or reluctant to spend time with the other parent as a result. 

The view of the Family Court

It is accepted by the Family Court that Parental Alienation causes real harm to any child involved and where it is evidenced, the Court will make any orders to protect the welfare of the child as it deems appropriate.  In the most extreme of cases the Court’s powers could include varying the arrangements for where the child lives, moving them permanently from the alienating parent to the parent who is being alienated.

The difficulty in these types of cases is that the Court has to balance the distress to a child it may cause in making any order for them to spend time with the alienated parent when the alienation in itself has become entrenched in the child.

By its very nature, Parental Alienation causes the child to have strong negative views of the alienated parent making cases involving such issues complex to manage to ensure that the welfare of the child is paramount. 

The case of Re H

In the case of Re H an application was made by a father for the child to live with him instead of the mother due to alleged Parental Alienation on the mother’s part. The application was opposed by mother. Contact had been stopped between the father and the child after the child sent a text message to his father making accusations regarding his behaviour. The message from the child made reference to another text message that the father had previously sent separately to the mother, which evidenced that the child had been privy to that message between the parents and had directly caused the child to be hostile towards the father as a result. The mother claimed not to know the reason for the change in the child’s view of the father. 

An expert provided evidence to the Court stating that the mother’s opinion about the father had been transferred to the child over time and had caused the child’s independent rejection of contact. The expert stated that while the child remained in the care of the mother any therapeutic intervention aimed at restoring the child’s relationship with father was ill-advised as the child was likely to continue to suffer significant social harm because of mother’s unwarranted concerns. The Court agreed with the Expert. As such a Child Arrangements Order was made that the child should live with father and spend time with mother, switching where the child lived as per the father’s application. 

The outcome of Re H is to highlight that the Court is less concerned with the motive of the alienating parent than the impact that this behaviour will have on the child or children involved.

Concerned about parental alienation?

If you are concerned that you might be being alienated from your child, please don't hesitate to contact our family law team by completing the form below or giving us a call.

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