Alienate your child from your ex at your peril
Divorce or separation can be an acrimonious and stressful time and it can be hard to put your child’s needs before your own personal feelings, but what happens when a parent consistently criticises and expresses hostility towards the other parent and passes these feelings on to the child?
Parental alienation – what is it and what do the courts do about it?
Parental alienation is a form of psychological manipulation to a child demonstrated by one parent but can also be a result of both parents playing a role, which in effect can result into the child rejecting or withdrawing from spending time with one parent post-separation. Although there is no legal definition for parental alienation, the family court advisory service, Cafcass, describe it as “when a child’s resistance hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”.
Many mental health experts and law professionals have labelled parental alienation as a form of emotional abuse, with the potential to do long-term damage to the mental health of the child.
Warning signs of parental alienation
If a parent is belittling or badmouthing the other, or making the child believe that the other parent does not care about them, the child may feel torn. They see the distress of the parent they are living with and feel it necessary to side with them, at the exclusion of the other parent. In certain cases, it can lead the child to reject the other parent.
A warning sign that parental alienation is taking place could be when a child resists or refuses to spend time with one of their parents. There could also be evidence of a disruption to visits where the parent the child lives with puts obstacles in the way or restricts/prevents contact from occurring.
The longer the manipulation goes on, the more damage is likely to be done to the relationship between the child and parent. Equally, the child may become more resistant to change. Early intervention is therefore important.
The first step is always to try and resolve the issue amicably, which could be through mediation or negotiation.
What action will the Court take in respect of parental alienation?
The Court will always act in the best interests of the child and, in general, this means ensuring a significant relationship with both parents – providing it is a safe one. The Courts therefore push for early intervention and parents may be offered intensive therapy in order to change behaviour.
Ultimately, the Court has a number of options that it may consider. These include:
- A complete ban on contact;
- Indirect contact – for key events such as birthdays and Christmas;
- Direct contact – visiting and staying;
- An adjournment to allow for further investigations and assessments;
- Removal of the child to a foster home to allow a period of investigation/assessment;
- Transfer of the child’s home from the person alienating the child to the other parent;
So, parents beware. If you systematically badmouth the other parent in front of your child, you could end up with your child living away from you.
If you have been accused of parental alienation or are going through a divorce or separation and feel that parental alienation is taking place, contact one of Wells Burcombe’s expert family lawyers for confidential advice and support.