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Parental Alienation, what is it?


A child should be able to have a loving relationship with both parents and this is usually always in the best interests of the child. Only in exceptional circumstances should the contact with one parent be stopped. This is usually seen as a last resort by the Courts.

Parental alienation can occur in many circumstances. It is it often the parent who lives with the child that causes the alienation. Although it can be known in cases where the other parent may use this to try and obtain more contact or a ‘Live With’ Order. Parental alienation is becoming more recognised in the Courts during Family Court proceedings.

What is Parental Alienation?

There is no fixed definition of parental alienation as it is so wide in nature, but it is usually first identified when the child is reluctant to spend time with the other parent without any reason.  It occurs when one parent manipulates a child to reject the other parent, who they had previously had a good relationship with, and the rejection occurs through no fault of the other parent and without reason.

The child ends up showing hostility to the other parent and will either not want contact or seek reduced contact with them. The manipulation by the parent causing the parental alienation is usually emotional  and psychological manipulation, which in turn causes the child to show emotion such as fear or hostility to the other parent.

This can be devasting for the parent against whom the child is being subjected to parental alienation but fortunately there are ways of dealing with this, or preventing it from happening.

What are the signs of Parental Alienation?

If you are concerned and believe your child is being turned against you, there are some signs of parental alienation to look out for. These are:

  • Your child is reluctant or refusing to spend time with you without a clear reason.
  • Your child cancels contact or has other plans arranged during time of contact.
  • Your child is becoming withdrawn and distant when they used to be affectionate.
  • Your child appears to feel guilty leaving the other parent.
  • Your child displays an awareness of adult issues or using adult language where they have not previously.
  • Your child is making unfounded allegations against you.
  • You feel as though your child is becoming withdrawn.

If you notice any of the above behaviours, you also need to consider whether you believe the behaviour is a result of the other parent whether it be directly or indirectly. However, it is important to remember these signs do not automatically mean your child is being subjected to parental alienation. Children in their nature can sometimes favour one parent to the other or refuse to do something because they are being stubborn, rather than being manipulated by the other parent.

What the other parent can do to cause Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation by a parent is not always deliberate. Sometimes, the behaviour can be very subtle, other times it is very clear. It can take lots of different forms including.

  • Refusing or limiting contact.
  • Controlling contact so that the other parent does not have any independent time with the child.
  • Persuading the child to decide not to spend time with the other parent.
  • Making the child feel guilty if they do spend time with the other parent.
  • Telling lies or making negative comments about the other parent.
  • Not notifying the other parent of important information about the child.
  • Not letting the child talk about the other parent.
  • Giving the child the impression that the other parent does not love them, does not want to spend time with them or has other priorities.
  • False accusations of abuse.
  • Claiming to be fearful of the other parent but without merit.
  • Making the child believe the other parent is a risk to them or might cause them harm.
  • Acting cold and distant towards their rejected parent when in the presence of the alienating parent but becoming warm and friendly once they are alone with the rejected parent.
  • Making the child take sides and questioning their loyalty.
  • Encouraging the child to be disrespectful to the other parent.

What can you do about Parental Alienation?

If you suspect parental alienation is occurring, then is it important to act quickly so the behaviour can be tackled sooner rather than later. It is a troubling time for the parent being subjected to the alienation but also affects the child both emotionally and psychologically. The process to restore the relationship with the other parent can be a long process. It will need to be a careful and structed approach due to the psychological damage caused.   Therefore, early intervention can help as the more alienated the child becomes, the harder and lengthier time it can take to resolve.

How the Courts can be involved in Parental Alienation?

An application to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order will usually be required. The Courts tend to work alongside other support such as psychologists and have the power to order assessments and involve experts when needed.

CAFCASS will also become involved at the early stages of proceedings, CAFCASS officers are able to identify alienating behaviours from assessing the child and parents. CAFCASS then prepare a letter or report with the outcome of their assessment and make recommendations to the Court.

The Courts will always encourage a loving relationship with both parents. If the relationship with a parent is being stopped and without good reason, the Court can become involved to resolve it. The Court will consider the circumstances and the best interests of the child as each case is different. What may be suitable for one child may be different for another. Therefore, the Court has wide powers to ensure best interests are met.

In some serious cases, a Court may transfer the residence to the other parent to prevent the alienation and further emotional harm to the child. However, the best interests of the child will always be considered when making orders and is dependent on the circumstances. The child’s welfare is always paramount.

Parental Alienation cases are complex cases, in some circumstances it may be necessary to add the child as a party to the proceedings and a legal guardian would be appointed to represent the child. In most cases it is likely the Courts will appoint a psychologist who specialises in Parental Alienation to assess the child and the parents to decide if Parental Alienation is present in the circumstances and make recommendations to the Court.

What types of Orders can the Court make?

There are various orders a Court can make including:

  • A type of Child Arrangements Order – known as a ‘Spend Time With’ Order.
  • Adding a child to the proceedings and appointing a legal guardian.
  • Changing residence from one parent to the other.
  • Attaching a Penal Notice to a Child Arrangement Order warning a parent that they may be fined or sent to prison if they do not comply with the Order in place.
  • Send the parent to prison if they are not complying with a Child Arrangement Order.
  • Ordering the involvement of experts including psychologist and social workers to provide their opinions and recommendations.
  • Ordering remedial work such counselling sessions for the child, parents, or whole family.

We strongly recommend you obtain expert legal advice if you believe your child is a victim to parental alienation.

Early intervention

If you suspect your child is being subject to parental alienation, then it is extremely important that you act as quickly as possible and seek some legal advice. If there is Parental Alienation present and it continues without being challenged, then this can cause serious damage to the relationship between the alienated parent and child and can take a long time to repair.

How can Andrew Isaacs Law help?

Here at Andrew Isaacs Law Limited we will go through the alienating behaviours with you, discuss your options and advise on the best way forward to resolve the issue for you and your child. Contact us today to arrange a consultation.

Nicola Magrath – Family Law Solicitor                                                  Dated:  09.02.23



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