Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members. It is a distinctive form of psychological abuse towards both the child and the rejected family members, that occurs almost exclusively in association with family separation or divorce, particularly where legal action is involved.

According to CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), for a long time now, those charged with looking after children’s welfare have been aware of parental alienation in family law proceedings. However, growing interest and concern among the public, the courts, the social work sector and other key stakeholders has meant that this serious problem is starting to become better recognised. In April 2018, CAFCASS are, themselves, introducing a new tool the High Conflict Practice Pathway, to support the family court in dealing with parental alienation.

There is general consensus that alienating behaviours sit on a continuum of mild to severe with varying impact. Extreme examples of parental alienation are generally accepted as being a small percentage of the cases that come before the family court, so, whilst many people feel they are suffering at the hands of extreme alienation, the situation is often more complicated than that. More common are the ‘hybrid’ or mixed cases which feature a combination of child and adult behaviours and attitudes, often both adults are involved, even if the behaviour of one is more severe, leading to the child rejecting or resisting one parent.

Alienating behaviours can include: a parent constantly badmouthing or belittling the other; limiting contact; forbidding discussion about them; and creating the impression that the other parent dislikes or does not love the child. Alienated activities can include rejecting a parents, using the language of the alienating parent despite this language sitting uncomfortably with the child's age and stage of development, insisting the decision to reject is entirely the child's own and 'splitting' or seeing one parent as completely in the right and the other, 'targeted' parent as completely in the wrong. Whilst it is very easy to see the child as being completely influenced by the alienating parent, practitioners in this field suggest that it is very rare for the 'targeted' parent to have not played some smaller role in the child's decision to sever contact.

If you would like to read more about parental alienation, we believe these publications provide a solid foundation for understanding the problem and for providing a solution:

The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals by Richard A Gardner.

Surviving Parental Alienation: A Journey of Hope and Healing by Amy Baker and Paul Fine.

Understanding Parental Alienation: Learning to Cope, Helping to Heal by Karen and Nick Woodall (Family Separation Clinic, London).


The leading practitioners in helping families to reunite after alienation are The Family Separation Clinic at