Parental Alienation (PA)
This is a relatively new term which is growing topic in the Family Court and Family Mediation world. Rarely a day goes by in my mediation practice where at least one parent doesn’t raise the issue of Parental Alienation (PA).
Parental Alienation is not a new concept, it is widely know that children have been exposed to behaviours that could be deemed too be alienating for many years and research dates back into the late 80’s indicating that Parental alienation is not a new concept. Research from CAFCASS in July 2016 indicated that Parental Alienation is responsible for 80% of the most intransigent cases that come before the family court.
What is Parental Alienation
Parental Alienation can be characterised by summarised as a child whose parent/s are engaged in high conflict divorce- allies himself or herself with one parent and rejects a relationship with the other, alienated parent without legitimate justification. The child resists or refuses to spend time with the alienated parent.
The alienated child will have a strong alignment, or enmeshment, with the non alienating parent, whilst stridently rejecting the relationship with the other, or presenting significant fear of that parent. The fear and rejection is found to be unwarranted based on the child’s actual lived experience of that parent.
The person seen to be alienated by the child may deliberately or unconsciously behave in ways which may have caused a child to be alienated.
Not surprisingly a child doesn’t want to be in the middle of the parent conflict, it causes them. to be stressed, when they care about both parents and they don’t want to be caught in the middle. Children most often struggle to manage the conflict and end up believing that they need to stay away from one parent in order to survive.
In the UK Parental Alienation is now considered a form of Child Abuse, under the category “Emotional Harm” and in some cases in England the courts have transferred the residence of Children believed to have been alienated by one parent to the care of the alienated parent.
Re B (change of residence; parental alienation)  EWFC B24 is a published judgment from a family court decision that a child had been alienated from her father by her mother and should move to live with her father.
Re D A child -parental alienation) October 2018
A child may say they do not want to see one of their parents, and the reasons they give are not in line with their life experience of that parent. Children are often anxiously refusing or resistant to being with one of their parents, or the child appears withdrawn, expresses hatred and animosity towards a parent when they visit. The child will offer weak or frivolous reasons for their
Where one Parent is in high conflict with the other parent, and, or they are unable to communicate effectively with the other parent.
One parent exposes the other child to unwarranted negative messages about the other, whether deliberately or not.
Where one parent justify’s their actions, or behaviour or need for the child to be brought into the negative messages about their other parent.
The child refuses vehemently to refuse contact of any sort with the alienated parent, with no genuine
Parental Alienation Actions/ Behaviours
Where a parent tells a child negative messages or stories about their other parent which lead them to feel or believe that their other parent is either one or all of the below:-
- Unsafe, Unloving, Unavailable
- I am the only one who loves you, You need only me to make you feel good about yourself
- Pursuing a relationship with your other parent put your relationship with me at risk
Essentially the parent undermines the child’s sense of security with the other parent.
The above are the key messages that will be portrayed by the alienating parent to the child alongside some or all of the following:-
4. Interfering with symbolic communication – not providing opportunities for the child to talk about and share images of their other parent
5. Interfering with the physical contact between the child and their other parent
6. Asking the child to keep secrets which creates guilt and shame in the child, which makes them want to avoid the other parent.
7. Not referring to the parent by their title Dad or Mum, encouraging children to change their name.
10. The child feels fearful to spend time with the other parent for fear that they may have caused them to be hurt or upset, as they feel that they have done wrong.
This is not an exhaustive list.
Child’s relationship with their parents will be damaged
Children may display high levels of anger aggression, withdrawal, defiance and rigidity, however some children don’t display any outward signs.
Children who have experience adverse childhood experiences of which parental separation and conflict is a factor are 30% more likely to commit suicide.
Long term impact
Children who are alienated more likely to find it difficult to make healthy positive relationships in their life, including work and Social life. They are at far greater risk of developing mental health problems and substance misuse. (Baker & Verrocchio, 2013, 2016; Bernet, Baker, Baker, & Verrocchio, 2016; Cartwright, 1993; Johnson et al, 2005)
The entire family including the person responsible for the alienating behaviours suffer.
How can Mediation Help?
Many cases will appear before a Family Mediator where there may be signs of parental alienation, or where one or other parent is thought to be behaving in ways which could be seen to be alienating a child towards the other. In mediation it is not the mediators role to judge what is or isn’t happening, that said Family Mediators do have a responsibility to report concerns about a child’s safety and well-being if concerns come to light as part of the mediation process, this could be as a result of a MIAM assessment or arising out of the child’s expressed wishes and feelings or indeed the mediation between the parents.
At Children1st Mediation Plymouth we have trained in Parental Alienation and undertaken a number of cases referred to us from the courts where this is indicated as a factor. Later this year we will undertake the first ever advance training for Mediators in Parental Alienation in UK.
There are a number of factors that need to be in place for us to consider mediation in such circumstances, specifically that both parents must be signed up to a commitment to finding mutually agreeable ways forward in the best interest of the child and be willing to work together in mediation, whether this is in separate rooms or in the same room. They must be willing to discuss options and explore ways in which their co-parenting relationship can improve and find ways to reduce and eradicate the child’s exposure to negative narrative about the other parent.
As part of the extended services we offer we have been able to assist with reunification and reconciliation meetings between children, young people and their alienated parent. This can be referred to as Parent Child Mediation, where opportunities for a child to meet their parent whom the have been alienated against to build some understanding, reduce fear and tensions and agree mutually agreeable ways forward in line with their wishes and feelings with the full and ongoing support of a previously alienating parent.
This has to be with the commitment and support of both parents in finding a mutually agreeable way forward. This can’t be done successfully without the full participation of the person responsible for alienating behaviours.
Whilst parent Child Mediation is an unregulated form of mediation, our mediators reserve the right to refuse to mediate at any time without reason.
To find out more about Parental Child Mediation, or to find out more about Mediation when there is evidence of Parental alienation then please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
NEXT WEEK – The Challenges face by Mediators working with Parental Alienation cases.