Parental alienation can have a devastating impact on children. Here Megan Prideaux, a family lawyer at Thrings, offers some expert advice to affected parents.
Parental alienation is the term used to describe a situation where one parent tries to undermine the role of the other following a separation.
Mothers and fathers who try to persuade a child to permanently exclude the other parent from their life could be denied contact under a new process being trialled by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
But what are the warning signs of parental alienation and what can you do if you suspect your child is being turned against you?
Examples of parental alienation can range from the deliberate sabotage of relationships, to more subtle behaviour and putting false ideas into a child’s head. It can include obstructing the time the child has with their other parent, ‘bad mouthing’ or forbidding discussion of them, saying that the other parent does not love their child or making the child feel guilty for spending time with their mother or father.
Parents have a responsibility to promote their child’s relationship with the other parent. It may feel unnatural to encourage your child to see their mother or father if they are expressing reservations, but it is important to do so where appropriate.
Attempting to alienate a parent is usually contrary to the welfare of the child and can have detrimental effects on their wellbeing, and the wellbeing of the other parent.
If you experience issues with your ex-partner’s behaviour, then it is important to stay positive and try to maintain the relationship with your child. Consider keeping a record of instances, behaviour or comments which you can refer back to as necessary.
It is important not discuss the issues with your child or reciprocate any negative behaviour, as this may only make things worse for your son or daughter. You could also try to speak to a third party like a mediator or family member to assist in resolving any issues.
In an ideal world, all children would maintain a healthy relationship with both parents, where appropriate. Under the Cafcass scheme, parents who try to alienate their child against a former partner could face contact with their child being restricted or refused for months, if not permanently.
Only time will tell how the trial Cafcass scheme will work in practice but this appears to be a positive step towards tackling a problem that can have devastating consequences for families.