Parental Alienation Syndrome: What is it and signs to look for

Posted on July 16, 2021
Two adults arguing behind a child

In recent years, the concept of parental alienation has been raised many times in cases where the family law department at Jefferies have represented parents and children. 

In the majority of these types of cases, CAFCASS (Court welfare service) have sought to devise strategies for their Family Court Advisors to assist in the identification and management of cases involving alleged parental alienation. It is universally recognised that if parental alienation is a feature of a case, the types of behaviour that the children are frequently subjected to is harmful to them.

These types of behaviours can be difficult to identify and, more importantly, difficult to manage. If the behaviours cannot be managed it is hard to see how they can be stopped. It is certainly the case that the Family Justice System has, at times, struggled to manage these cases also.

What is Parental Alienation?

The concept of parental alienation is not a new one. There has been a lot of debate and academic literature about what it is, what it means and how to manage it. Richard Gardner, an American child-psychiatrist, first devised the concept of ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’. His work attracted considerable criticism but, despite this, forms the basis of what may constitute parental alienation. 

In recent times, CAFCASS  have identified the need for a greater understanding of parental alienation as they are frequently asked by the Family Court to assist to the Court. CAFCASS’ working definition is: 

“When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

It has been acknowledged by the courts that cases where alienation features place a huge demand on the court’s resources. This is particularly so at a time when the Family Court is facing significant pressures, which are now added to by the COVID pandemic issues also.

How does this impact children?

There is a body of research which tells us that a fractured parental relationship can create difficulties for children which impact on them throughout their lives, into adulthood and future relationships. Greater understanding of the concept is required, in order to ensure better outcomes for those children and families served by the Family Justice System.

Typical Behaviours

As a department, we have seen a huge number of these cases. Each of us could give a list of behaviours that are indicative of this, from the many cases we have seen. From the parent who fails to provide any encouragement to the child and is extremely critical of anything done by the other parent by way of words or deeds, to the parent who makes false allegations of abuse to frustrate the child’s relationship with the parent who is just seeking to spend some time with their child despite the parental separation. 

It is important that parents consult solicitors who understand these problems and don’t contribute to them by failing to understand strategies that help address these problems and bring about resolution. To solve a problem that, as a society, we do not yet fully understand or are able to define, is a difficult challenge but one where experience and patience are vital. A war of letters constructed by lawyers charging a client for each sent and each received rarely achieves anything constructive, least of all brings about resolution. 

Parental alienation is a phrase often bandied about in a case where it has no place, and as a reason to justify unacceptable rejection of justifiable concerns that are being raised by the parent with whom the child lives.

How can we help?

If you need support around parental alienation, please contact our Family Law Department. We are accredited specialists also as members of the Children law Panel. We are available for video or face to face consultations by appointment and can advise as the availability of legal aid and competitive private rates.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only.  They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.  Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

Speak to an expert today

Share article