Parental alienation – loosening the Gordian Knot

November 25, 2019

Two recent cases, Re A (Children) (Parental Alienation) and In Re H (A Child) (Parental Alienation), have once again highlighted the need for lawyers, parents and courts to be live to the possibility of parental alienation.

Failure to identify and address the issue can, at best, leave the child’s needs neglected and, at worst, cause significant harm to the children involved.

Re A demonstrates the devastating effects of not identifying parental alienation at a stage in the child’s life when it could have been successfully addressed.

Re H highlighted that professionals’ ability to identify parental alienation can still be woefully inadequate. Thankfully the court in that case was assisted by Dr Janine Braier “one of the country’s foremost experts in the field of parental alienation”.

What is parental alienation?

Although parental alienation is not a recognised syndrome, it describes the pattern of behaviour where one parent deliberately turns the child against the other parent.

Challenges of identifying parental alienation

The problem with identifying parental alienation is all the more difficult when one, or both parties are unrepresented. Increasingly, this is the case with the limitations on the availability of legal aid in disputes between parents about arrangements for the children.

Sometimes the alienating parent may also have an underlying psychological / psychiatric disorder.

Alienated parents, themselves, are unlikely to be aware of the nature, complexity or, at times, subtle presentation of the issue, the chronic nature of the problem and the potential, serious, long-term effects of it on the child.

One of the key things for a parent who is the subject of developing alienation to bear in mind is to persist in seeking to maintain a relationship with the child, a principle now enshrined in the Children Act.

What do parental alienation proceedings involve generally?

Proceedings of this nature can be drawn out, and the alienated parent may have to face apparent, and at times entrenched resistance from their own child to seeing them, false allegations of physical or, even, sexual abuse, and professionals who may not be qualified or may fail to identify parental alienation.

The stakes are high in such cases, and, not infrequently, the only option left at the end of proceedings is for the child to be ordered to live with the alienated parent.

More and more, barristers are acting for parents directly in such cases, via the Direct Access scheme. If you are parent who believes you may be the subject of parental alienation, instructing a barrister may help loosen the Gordian Knot.

About the authors:

Barry McAlinden has acted for fathers in 2 parental alienation cases. In both cases the court concluded that the children should be moved from the care of their mother to the care of Barry’s client.

Anna Dannreuther is a pupil barrister at Field Court Chambers in London.