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A court has recently made a bold decision about which parent a child should live with based on evidence of parental alienation and the impact this was having on the welfare of the child.

 

The case involved separated parents of a 12 year old child. The father applied to the court for a transfer of care to allow the child to live with him in the South of England rather than living with the mother in the Midlands following a breakdown in the relationship with his son.

 

The evidence put forward of parental alienation was strengthened by an independent medical report from a psychologist and leading expert in the field of parental alienation. His report assessed all parties – the mother, father and the child – and concluded that the mother’s actions were not supporting a relationship between the child and the father and it was in the child’s best interests to live in with his father.

 

What is Parental Alienation?

 

Parental Alienation is the deliberate attempt to negatively impact the relationship between the child and the other parent.

 

This can happen from both sides leaving the child stuck in the middle of two parents or could be from one side in particular.

 

Parental alienation can occur from a bitter or complicated relationship breakdown. One parent could feel hurt, let down or angry and they decide to ‘punish’ the ex-partner by causing distance between them and their child. They could genuinely feel that the other parent is in the wrong or is a bad parent and therefore shouldn’t be spending time with their child or this could be part of a power game when child contact is being used as a ‘weapon’.

 

Parental alienation could be direct – for example promoting anger towards the other parent, sharing ‘grown-up’ details about your separation or conflicts and refusing to co-parent. Or it could be done in a more covert manner, such as speaking negatively about the other parent within earshot, showing negative body language or showing emotion in front of the child.

 

It could also include things like stopping or reducing contact, not allowing the child to talk about the other parent, taking away any gifts or keepsakes involving the other parent or forcing them to choose between their parents.

 

This can be very damaging to a child – particularly younger children who are not able to identify the manipulation that is going on. They will often think that their new found opinions on their mother or father are completely their own and this can cause a distant or unhealthy relationship for years to come and even into adulthood.

Warning Signs of Parental Alienation

 

Early signs of parental alienation could include;

 

  • Changes in communication either with your ex-partner or with your child.
  • Changes to your contact or your child refusing visits.
  • No responses to messages or phone calls.
  • Your child becoming quiet, distant or acting differently around you.
  • Your child taking a sudden dislike to your new partner, siblings or other family members.
  • Being shut out of school activities or children’s hobbies.
  • Your child becoming upset or angry with you for no apparent reason.
  • Your child asking questions about your relationship with their mother / father.
  • Your child revealing details about things that they should not be privy to.

 

How to Avoid Parental Alienation During Your Separation

 

When you are going through a separation or divorce it can be difficult to remain positive about your ex-partner when deep down you are likely to be feeling angry, upset or resentful towards them.

 

This is where being a parent needs to be put first.

 

You must consider the welfare of your child and the importance that during a turbulent time in their life you support and promote relationships with both parents regardless of your own feelings.

 

Obviously if there are any safeguarding issues then you would be advised to speak to a solicitor or the police in a case of emergency.

 

  • Try to separate your ‘mother’ or ‘father’ role to your ‘ex-wife’ or ‘ex-husband’ role. Being a parent means doing and saying things that are difficult at times. This includes listening to your child re-tell a wonderful day out with the other parent at a time when you are perhaps furious with said parent for entirely different reasons.
  • Try not to engage in arguments or difficult conversations whilst around your child. If you receive a text message or email, do not open it until your child has gone to bed or deal with things another time.
  • Be kind on handover days. Practice mindfulness or give yourself 5 minutes of calm before meeting to ensure that you are displaying positive body language.
  • Avoid sharing ‘grown up’ details of your relationship or arguments. If your child asks questions about what is going on or why you are no longer together then carefully consider how you approach this. See our article ‘How to Tell your Child About Divorce’ .
  • Make sure that you text messages and emails cannot be read by your child. Many families share devices such as Ipads and mobile phones. Check that messages are not synced between shared devices or that your children are not snooping on things that they should not be reading.
  • You could attend a ‘Positive Parenting’ course or invest in some parenting guides or workshops to help you to best support children going through family changes.
  • Try your best to stick to your agreed contact plans. Honor these agreements, whether they were determined by a court or decided between you.
  • Include your ex-partner in aspects of your child’s life such as school plays, football matches, parents’ evenings, milestones hit or challenging behavior. Even when you are not getting along it is important for your child to see a united front. Consider using a co-parenting app to help share special moments in your child’s life and promote good communication and co-parenting.
  • Speak to a specialist family lawyer who is well-versed in children matters during separation

 

What Can You Do About It?

 

If you think that you are being shut out of your child’s life or that your ex-partner is trying to damage the relationship between you and your child/children then it is important to act calmly and consider your options.

 

Remember that if your child’s behavior has changed or your ex-partner is limiting contact then it may not be a case of parental alienation and there could be other reasons or explanations.

 

  • Make a note of any patterns of behavior and some examples of times where you feel that parental alienation is taking place.
  • Speak to your ex-partner but do this in a calm and dignified manner away from the children. If you are not able to speak face-to-face, perhaps schedule a phone call or write an email.
  • Avoid speaking to your child about the situation as you risk upsetting them further and could be seen to be manipulating them.
  • If you are having trouble communicating or you feel that you are not being heard then you could seek legal advice. Participating in Mediation may help you express your feelings and agree on contact plans going forward.
  • If you feel that your situation is not improving then you could take action by applying to the court for an order or to change living arrangements.

 

Here to Help you Move Forward

 

If you would like more advice on this topic or any other family / divorce matters then please contact our friendly team who will be able to assist you and help you find a way forward.

 

Call us on 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online assistant who will be able to take some details and get a member of our team to contact you.

 

 

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.