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Leicester solicitor explains parental alienation in custody disputes

a child holding hands with two parents

As a vastly experienced family solicitor, AGR Law’s Gina Samuel-Richards knows the consequences custody disputes can have on children when one parent alienates the other.


Gina Samuel-Richards from Leicester's AGR Law

In this article, Gina explains parental alienation and its far-reaching effects on children.


What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation is where one parent dominates possession of a child, purposefully sabotaging any opportunities for them to have a meaningful relationship with the target parent.


The dominating parent cuts the target parent from the child’s life through psychological abuse and coercive control or they manipulate the child into severing ties with the target parent.


Parental alienation goes beyond one of the parents being difficult. It is a deliberate act of revenge on their ex-spouse which destroys the bond the child feels with the alienated parent and their extended family, damaging those relationships and harming the child’s mental health for the long term.


When custody disputes occur between warring separating couples, we find some parents put their ill feelings, anger or bitterness for the other parent above their children’s needs or wants. This is when parental alienation may occur.


How do you recognise parental alienation?

It’s important to recognise when a parent is being awkward and when parental alienation is occurring in an ongoing pattern, as this is a form of domestic abuse and will be treated as such by the court.


A parent who is alienating their former spouse may often:

·      Repeatedly criticise, insult, lie about and devalue the target parent to (or in front of) the child


·      Encourage the child to say discourteous untruths about the target parent, such as that they’re dangerous or untrustworthy


·      Prevent the target parent from accessing the child in person, over the phone or by any other means, even if the court has ordered it. They may also pretend the child is too ill to see the target parent or deliberately make arrangements or appointments at an unsuitable time to prevent access. If they do allow access, they may continually phone, message or even turn up during that time


·      Only grant or agree to increase access in return for money


·      Communicate poorly and make critical decisions without consulting the target parent on matters such as living arrangements, healthcare or education


·      Insist the child no longer refers to the target parent as mum or dad. They may also attempt to change their name to remove any connection to the target parent


·      Make false allegations to the police or social services to persuade them the target parent is not fit enough to have access or parental responsibility


·      Throw away or destroy gifts and other items given to the child by the target parent, often telling the child that the target parent does not love them


·      Act unnecessarily emotional or anxious when talking about the child spending time with the target parent, or just before the child is due to be picked up, to manipulate them into not wanting to go


How does it affect the child?

A 2020 report by the Children’s Commissioner found that one in eight children has been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder. Their parent’s separation is most commonly identified as the cause. 


Children can suffer:

·      Low self-esteem, guilt, lack of trust and depression


As children grow into adults, the trauma caused by parental alienation can mean they suffer:

·      Failed relationships, divorce, intimacy issues and difficulty bonding with their children. This can lead to using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism


Parental alienation in the eyes of the law

As well as the Human Rights Act 1998, parental alienation law is considered under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This is a legally binding international agreement which upholds children’s rights across the world.


It includes several articles, including:


·       Article 9 which states that, unless there are safeguarding issues, a child or young person should not be separated from their parents


·       Article 19 which states that children and young people have the right to be protected from violence, not just physically but also mentally, i.e. verbal abuse and intimidation


·       Article 7 which states every child has the right to know and be cared for by their parents


If you think you and your child are victims of parental alienation, I advise you to seek legal advice as soon as possible.


A solicitor will carefully consider the relationship prior to your separation and find the reasons for its deterioration. They would determine why that parent has been rejected and to what extent the other parent has influenced them.


Alleging parental alienation when there is insufficient evidence, or when the alleged perpetrator is simply behaving as might be expected due to difficult circumstances, can severely harm a child arrangements case.


Whilst it is taken seriously by the court, as all domestic abuse cases should be, it’s important to recognise that most of the alienating behaviour takes place in the home and is between the perpetrator and the child, away from any witnesses and often verbal so meaning evidence is hard to obtain. 


The Family Court will step in when the child’s welfare is compromised and will only consider the parental alienation allegations from the child’s perspective to protect their rights and best interests, rather than those of the parents.


It is a slow process can take months or even years to conclude. The outcome often depends on the judge allocating considerable time and resources to understand the situation fully.


The judge may typically:

·       Order or enforce that the child spends more time with the target parent

·       Appoint a guardian for the child

·       Order an assessment for the perpetrator

·       Change or suspend residence or apply conditions to residence which, if not met, will change residence of the child

·       Recommend family counselling


How can AGR Law help you?

Gina and her experienced team are experienced in supporting separating parents with child arrangements, including cases where parental alienation is evident and representation in court is required. Visit our website, call 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk to book an appointment.

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