Parental Alienation and Narcissism in Relationship Breakdown: Parental alienation
Parental alienation is a process, the result of which is a psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent. Such parental alienation is often described as ‘the unwarranted rejection of the alienated parent and an alignment with the alienating parent, characterised by the child’s extreme negativity toward the alienated parent due to deliberate or unintentional actions of the alienating parent’. The Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service, more commonly known as CAFCASS have a working definition which is ‘When a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent’. CAFCASS has an excellent website dealing with parental alienation both setting out the real anxieties that such a course of action can have on children and parents but also wise words about labelling genuine concerns about parents having child arrangements as parental alienation. https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/parental-alienation/
The website sets out appropriate and justified concerns about reasons why a child might be reluctant to see a parent. Domestic abuse, harm and neglect are obvious concerns as is alcohol or drug abuse, but particularly parental conflict where the child witnesses the parents arguing. Cases involving parental alienation tend to be very complex and require finely balanced assessment and decision making about how to resolve parental and child conflicts. A child rejecting a parent is a concern especially where there are justifiable reasons that need safety measures put in place and/or help and therapy. Parental alienation where there is an unjustifiable fear adds to the complexity. Parental alienation can be conducted by both men and women and the motives for doing so are not entirely clear. The damaging effect upon children is however. The alienation can start simply with bad-mouthing, criticising or belittling the other parent and build with a strategy of restricting contact between the child and the other parent. Parental alienation is not caused by gender alone, it is whoever tends to be the resident parent.
The behaviour of the alienating parent can include some or all of the following-
- Coaching a child in a particular way
- Denigrating the other parent
- Re-writing past events
- Sharing inappropriate adult information
- Telling the child that the other parent is a risk to them, will harm them or has serious flaws
- Encourages, presents or allows rude and offensive behaviour or language towards the other parent
- A lack of empathy towards the child’s love and like of the other parent
- Threats to the child if the child is positive towards the other parent.
The child may experience some or all of the above and manifesting itself –
- Fear and loss for the other parent
- Anxiety that their care neds may not be met
- Far of upsetting the alienating parent and the consequences that may be threatened as a result
- Anger and resentment at being made to act contrary to their memory and instincts
- Consequential anger and bad behaviour
The work that therapists, psychiatrists and Cafcass can undertake to deal with such behaviours tends to focus on making the parents understand the needs, wishes and welfare of the children. Understanding the damaging effects not only in the short term but also medium term upon the child is crucial.
Being able to identify when parental alienation is really happening or rather an easy slur and allegation to make is a skill of an experienced family lawyer and maybe the assessment of an expert. The effects of parental alienation on the child and the parent can include –
- poorer self-esteem,
- higher rates of depression,
- longer term relationship difficulties,
- identity difficulties,
- Potential rejection in the long term of the alienating parent by the child
Such behaviour by the alienating parent is of course child abuse- emotional abuse and a failure to promote the child’s proper development and security.
Recent important cases where parental alienation has been considered by the court include-
In Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult)  EWCA Civ 568, the Court of Appeal allowed the father’s appeal against the refusal of his application to vary a child arrangements order. The order provided for the shared care of the parties’ daughter. The mother was alienating her from the father because of her adherence to an Australian cult.
In Re H (A Child) (Parental Alienation)  EWHC 2723 (Fam), the High Court ordered an immediate change in the child’s living arrangements, as the mother had alienated the child from his father. The child’s residence was immediately and successfully transferred from the mother to the father, despite the child having no direct contact with his father for 18 months.
Anthony Gold Solicitors
Accredited and hybrid trained mediator, collaborative practitioner, part-time District Judge in finance and Children Act cases and Higher Rights Advocate.
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*