What is Parental Alienation? Hear from a divorce solicitor…

Divorcing parents need to remember that, despite how they feel about each other now, they will remain in each other’s lives post-divorce because of their children. They will need to work together to create a successful co-parenting relationship.

This can prove difficult when there has been an acrimonious divorce and there is bad feeling between the divorced couple. However the couple feel about each other though, it is so important for each of them to put aside their personal feelings when in comes to parenting the children. Bad mouthing the other parent to the children is unfair both to the children and the other parent. The children have a right to love each of their parents and have a good relationship with both parents. The divorcing couple will always be family to the children, even if they are no longer a married couple.

I work with many clients to help them create a positive post-divorce parenting arrangement. It can prove challenging for some but I find that, as personal feelings towards their ex start to become less prominent, many remember how much their children love the other parent and deserve to be encouraged to have a positive relationship with them.

This doesn’t always happen though and I hear of many situations where one of the parents has alienated the children from the other parent, causing the children not to want to spend time with them and to build up negative feelings towards them. In it’s extreme form this is often referred to as parental alienation.

Louise Barretto, a family law partner at Bishop and Sewell in London, gives an explanation of parental alienation and tips for a more productive co-parenting relationship:

What is parental alienation?

It is difficult to define and is a contentious term. Some experts prefer to refer to “implacable contact disputes”. In high conflict situations the children are negatively impacted, sometimes causing them to prefer one parent above the other, claiming not to want to see the “alienated” parent. This can occur because they may have witnessed or experienced domestic abuse or sometimes where the favoured parent has consciously or unconsciously projected their negative view of the other parent onto the children. In extreme cases the children may try to protect themselves emotionally by “splitting” which means that they see one parent as totally good and the other as totally bad. These are very complex cases to resolve and usually require rigorous judicial intervention and therapy for the family. It is not as simple as getting the children’s “wishes and feelings” in a report, as experts believe we have to go behind what the children are expressing and work out why.

Why is it something to avoid?

Research shows that children exposed to high conflict situations between their parents struggle psychologically and emotionally themselves and the negative impact can remain into adulthood. The conflict causes immense distress and is very damaging. It is also accepted as important that all children should have a relationship with both parents unless there are safeguarding issues and the courts will strive to find a way to make this happen.

Top tips for creating a good co-parenting relationship during and after separation:

1. Remember that no parent is perfect.

2. Children whose parents separate in an amicable way with constructive communication about their living arrangements will be able to adjust and cope with the change far better.

3. An agreed arrangement is always better than one imposed by the courts.

4. Get help to discuss matters in a civil way if you are struggling to do so alone. There are very good mediators and family therapists available to help your family.

5. Parents need to try and deal with matters concerning arrangements for their children by putting aside their feelings for the other parent and looking at what is best for the children. This is easier said than done, as often one parent might feel that it is not best for their child to spend time with the other parent because of their perceived faults and deficiencies.

6. Resist the urge to criticise the other parent or make disparaging comments in front of the children. Children know that they are made from two parents and if they believe that one of those parents is “bad” or inadequate, they may start to feel that they must be too.


To work with Louise for your divorce, get in touch with her here – Contact Louise Barretto. 


To read more of my blogs on divorced parenting click here – Children and DivorceAnd to find out more about how I could help and support you with any issues you may be facing whilst navigating through your divorce, get in touch with me here – Contact Rhiannon


If you have found the tips in this blog useful then you will find lots more in my ebook “Tips for Coping with Divorce” which you can download here: free ebook.

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