Children’s Mental Health Week – Parental Alienation

5th February 2021

Children’s Mental Health Week – Parental Alienation

Sioned Fitt, a solicitor in the Higgs & Sons Family team, looks at the impact of parental alienation as the country acknowledges Children’s Mental Health Week.

Children’s Mental Health Week is always a significant time of the year as it encourages conversations about an important topic.

This year, as a result of Covid-19, school closures and increased marital breakdowns, it is more important than ever that we take stock and think about children and their wellbeing.

One issue we have seen on the rise in recent times is parental alienation. This is a term now defined in law but, of course, it is something which has always existed.

Parental alienation can happen after a separation and is when one parent uses strategies — sometimes referred to as brainwashing, alienating, or programming — to distance a child from the other parent. This can be a deliberate act and very obvious, or it can be unconscious and subtle. It can also occur with both parents distancing the child from their counterpart at the same time.

Some of the “symptoms” of this behaviour are the child constantly and unfairly criticising one parent without strong evidence or the youngster failing to find any redeeming qualities in one parent while displaying unwavering support for the alienator. The child often uses phrases that are clearly borrowed from an adult.

Parental alienation can be incredibly harmful and cause depression, anxiety and psychological issues for the child involved. Often, the alienating parent cannot see how their behaviour is impacting on the child.

The truth is, most children want to see both parents. As a family law team, we are committed to acting early and taking a conciliatory approach so that children are not left in a situation where they struggle to reconcile their own personal thoughts and feelings with how they are expected to think, feel and act by the alienating parent.

The advice and help we can offer is varied and tailored to each family. It is possible for this issue to be resolved by signposting to family therapy and co-parenting counselling before any irreversible damage is done.

People can often be sceptical about therapy, particularly if the relationship has become acrimonious. However, we have seen many circumstances where it has really helped the parents involved to put the children first and to take a new path in their parenting relationship.

Unfortunately, there are cases where the parents cannot change their behaviour and continue to dictate the feelings of the children causing distress and harm. These type of cases do end up in court and, needless to say, this can be extremely damaging.

We are committed to trying to avoid this as much as possible, whether that is through negotiation, signposting or round table discussions. Sometimes just having a neutral person present, such as a family mediator, to air the issues can make all the difference.

Ultimately, the mental health of the child – the innocent party - must be the priority. 



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