What is Parental Alienation?

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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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There’s no single definition of parental alienation, but it’s often characterised by the resident parent psychologically manipulating a child against the other parent. That way, the child aligns themselves with one parent’s views and takes their side.

It’s essentially a term to describe the overall problem of children being encouraged by one parent (referred to as the favoured parent) to unjustly reject the other parent (referred to as the targeted parent). The specific behaviours that they engage in are referred to as parental alienation strategies. Parental alienation often but not always occurs in divorced families.

Parental alienation is a significant legal issue which has become common in children disputes. Indeed, the effect it has on children has been brought to the forefront of many cases in recent times, with both professionals and the public raising concerns. If you think that your child or your family may be experiencing parental alienation, Simpson Millar are here to help. We’ve outlined the signs and impact of parental alienation below but our specialist team can be contacted with any concerns or queries you may have.

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The Signs of Parental Alienation

It was noted by psychologist Amy Baker that parental alienation will usually result in the child adapting their behaviours and feelings to that of the alienating parent to ensure their attachment needs are met. This means they can end up trying to please the alienating parent, rather than basing their behaviour on true feelings.

There are seventeen primary parental alienation strategies that have been identified through research studies with adults who were alienated as children and with targeted parents. The 17 primary parental alienation strategies fall into five general categories:

  1. poisonous messages to the child about the targeted parent in which he or she is portrayed as unloving, unsafe, and unavailable
  2. limiting contact and communication between the child and the targeted parent
  3. erasing and replacing the targeted parent in the heart and mind of the child
  4. encouraging the child to betray the targeted parent's trust
  5. undermining the authority of the targeted parent


When one parent engages in these behaviours they may be considered to be causing harm or engaging in harmful behaviours.

It’s important to recognise however that not all children who are exposed to these parental alienation strategies succumb to the pressure and become alienated. Some children are able to resist the pressure to choose one parent over the other. When they cannot resist the pressure they are said to be alienated.

When a child is alienated, they essentially reject the targeted parent without justification. Their relationship with the targeted parent is based on the emotional manipulation of the favoured parent rather than based on the actual experiences with the targeted parent.

On the other side of this, it should be noted that not all children who reject a parent are alienated. Some children reject a parent for an actual reality-based reason. In order to determine that a child who is rejecting a parent is alienated as opposed to estranged, all five of the following factors must be present:

  • A breach in the relationship
  • A prior positive relationship between the child and the parent who is currently being rejected by the child
  • Absence of abuse, neglect or seriously deficient parenting on the part of the parent who has now been rejected
  • Evidence that the favoured parent has engaged in many of the primary parental alienation strategies
  • Evidence that the child is showing signs of alienation


Because of parental alienation, both children and their parents are likely to suffer in the long run. Parents are often in need of specific and strategic guidance so that they can effectively co-parent with their toxic former partner before their children ‘turn against them’ essentially and become alienated.

For parents whose children are unfortunately already alienated, they need compassionate support and advice on their parental alienation journey. If you think you have been affected by parental alienation, our friendly and compassionate team of Family and Child Law Solicitors are here to listen to your concerns and to help where we can. We’ll be able to offer initial advice on the options available to you in the first instance before assisting you in determining the best way to proceed for you and your family.


Parental Alienation Syndrome

In most cases, the child will have had a loving relationship with the targeted parent before the alienation has started.

However, the continual hostility can cause Parental Alienation Syndrome. This is where  the child will eventually be the one to highlight the targeted parent’s faults and eventually they may believe that they’d be happier without them in their lives.

Parental Alienation Syndrome usually takes place when the parents have separated, are divorced or if the other parent has started a new relationship. The overall aim of the alienation is usually to punish the other parent.

Children who have been alienated will usually claim that it is their own decision to reject the targeted parent. Once this happens, it could be several years before the targeted parent will see their children again. It’s the child's claim that they are not influenced in their decision by the targeted parent which often makes it difficult to deal with as the child's 'evidence' is regarded as crucial to the Courts decision.

Although Parental Alienation Syndrome specifically refers to a ‘Parent’ who is alienating the child, it’s important to note that this could include just about anyone who has custody, control or influence over the child. For example, there are cases where:

  • A family member has gained custody of the child and alienated the child against the biological parent
  • A friend or Guardian has gained custody or control and subsequently alienated the child
  • Older siblings have alienated younger children against the parent
  • Step fathers who have had children alienated against them
  • Mothers who have children by more than one father will alienate the children against all of the fathers

These are just some examples however and is certainly not an exhaustive list. If you’re unsure if your situation would fall under the term of parental alienation, our expert team of Family and Child Law Solicitors here at Simpson Millar will be able to assist.

Additionally, the alienation may not just be against the targeted parent, but may also be against that parent's friends, family and common acquaintances. It may extend to avoiding the area where the 'hated' parent lives and disengaging with the lifestyles and interests of the targeted parent too.


Examples of Parental Alienation

  • Belittling, badmouthing and undermining the other parent
  • Forbidding discussion about the other parent whilst they’re in the alienating parent’s care
  • Interrogating the child after contact about the other parent and what discussions they had during their contact session
  • Placing blame on the other parent and making the child believe that they were the one to break up the family, resulting in hostility and hatred
  • Convincing the child that the other parent doesn’t love them or loves them less than another child of the family
  • Prohibiting contact or cancelling pre-arranged contact sessions
  • Restricting information provided to the other parent regarding schooling, activities or medical issues
  • Making important decisions about the child’s welfare without consultation of the other parent
  • Blocking indirect contact by making the child unavailable
  • Undermining the other parent’s authority


What Can Be Done?

If you believe that your child is being alienated against you, you should seek legal advice from a Family and Child Law Solicitor as soon as possible. If the alienation is severe, then you should consider making an urgent application to the Court, who can intervene to determine who the child spends time with.

As soon as you make your application to Court, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, more commonly referred to as CAFCASS will become involved and will speak to you regarding your concerns. CAFCASS are agents of the Court who will be able to assist and advise you on the Court process.

Additionally, they’ll also investigate the other parent regarding your allegations and recommend the next steps in your matter to the Court. CAFCASS are highly skilled in the field of child disputes and are often former social workers.

All professionals involved in the case will have to determine whether they believe parental alienation has taken place and whether it’s been the parent’s deliberate aim to turn the child against the targeted parent. The professionals involved in making this decision may be individuals from CAFCASS, social workers and the Court generally.

They will consider whether weight should be given to the child’s wishes and feelings when making a decision as to whom the child should live with or what contact the child should have with the non-resident parent.

If, after speaking to the child and the parents, the professionals remain very concerned, they can remove the child from the resident parent’s care and place them into the alienated parent’s care in an attempt to preserve the relationship. However, reversing what’s already happened can be difficult and rare.

It’s important to remember that the family Courts in England and Wales are there to help you should you believe that your child is being alienated against you or any other family member. Its primary aim is to ensure that the child’s welfare and best interests are served. If you remain concerned about your child being the victim of parental alienation, please contact one of our Family and Child Law Solicitors to discuss what you can do next.

We understand that you might feel very uneasy when your children are involved in Court proceedings. Our Family and Child Law Solicitors can guide you through the process of going to Court and will put your child’s best interests at the forefront of everything we do.

At Simpson Millar, we always handle each case with the sensitivity it deserves and will tailor our service to your unique circumstances to reach the best outcome for your child.

For initial advice get in touch with our Family and Child Law Solicitors who will be happy to assist you. Our expert team can be contacted on 0808 239 3465 or alternatively you can request a call back.

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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.


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Amy J.L. Baker. (n.d.). About Parental Alienation. [Online] Available at: https://www.amyjlbaker.com/about-parental-alienation (Accessed: 19/12/2023).

Cafcass. (n.d.). Cafcass. [Online] Available at: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/ (Accessed: 19/12/2023).

Parental Alienation UK. (n.d.). Parental Alienation UK. [Online] Available at: https://parentalalienationuk.info/?v=79cba1185463 (Accessed: 19/12/2023).

Parental Alienation. (n.d.). Parental Alienation. [Online] Available at: https://www.parentalalienation.org.uk/ (Accessed: 19/12/2023).

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