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  • Writer's pictureFernanda Stefani

Is your ex’s behaviour destroying your relationship with your children?

Is your ex alienating or denigrating you to your children? This is likely parental alienation.


But what is parental alienation? There is no single definition of ‘alienating behaviours’. This is a term used to describe behaviours where one parent or carer expresses an ongoing pattern of negative attitudes and communication about the other parent or carer that have the potential or intention to undermine or even destroy the child’s relationship with their loved one.


Cafcass has defined parental alienation as, "When a child’s resistance / hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent." This was recently approved by the Court of Appeal in Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult) [2020] EWCA Civ 568, [2020] 2 FLR 263. The court added to the definition of parental alienation that the manipulation of the child need not be malicious or even deliberate. Rather, it is the process that matters, and not the motive. However the perpetrating parent’s motive is important and can inform the court’s decision.

Sadly, domestic abuse and alienating behaviours can often co-exist.

“Alienating behaviours can also include spurning, terrorising, isolating, corrupting, or exploiting, and not responding appropriately to the child’s emotional needs. These tactics can foster a false belief that the parent who has been subject to the alienating behaviour is dangerous or unworthy. Children may adapt their own behaviours and feelings to the alienating parent to ensure that their attachment needs are met.” (Baker, 2010).


So what are the signs of parental alienation?


·       a parent portraying the other negatively;

·       a parent isolating the child from the other parent;

·       a parent suggesting that the other parent does not love the child;

·       a parent denigrating the image of the other parent by making defamatory statements about the other parent in front of the child;

·       a parent contacting the child excessively when with the other parent or

·       a parent making unfounded allegations or insinuations against the other parent.


What can be done legally?


An application can be made under the Children Act 1989 to the Family Court for a remedy such as restricting or reducing contact with the perpetrating parent. A fact finding hearing will take place to determine the allegations if the allegations made are true, on the balance of probabilities. The burden of proof lays with the person seeking the finding. It is frequently helpful for the perpetrator to go on a parenting course to learn how their behaviour are impacting the emotional, mental and physical health of the child.


It may be necessary to join the child as a party to the case, to be represented by a guardian. Rule 16.4 and Practice Direction 16A sets out guidance on circumstances which may justify making the child a party, to be represented by a guardian and this includes ‘where there is an intractable dispute over residence or contact, including where all contact has ceased, or where there is irrational or implacable hostility to contact or where the child may be suffering harm associated with the contact dispute’.


The court has a positive duty promote contact with the parents but if parental alienation is found to exist, there is a spectrum of severity and the remedy ordered by the court will depend upon an assessment of all aspects of the child’s welfare. This assessment can be done by way of a s7 CAFCASS report which has no cost to the parties and is carried out by an independent party, CAFCASS.


It is important to seek legal advice to prevent parental alienation from being perpetrated as the longer it goes on, the more damage it can cause to the child and the relationship of the parent with the child. It is also important to seek support from professionals to support the child and parent on both an emotional and psychological level.


Our Child & Family Solicitors can help you take action to stop parental alienation. For more information contact our expert Family & Child Solicitors on 


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