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Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation

Parental “alienation” – what is it and what can Courts do about it?

The verb “to alienate” has Latin roots and literally means “to estrange”. Parental alienation is the terminology often used to refer to a situation where a child has become estranged from a parent. Often underlying the use of the terminology is the belief on the part of the parent that has become alienated that such outcome has come about as a direct or indirect consequence of the other parent’s conduct.

Much debate ensued in the past as to whether “alienation” is a diagnosable condition that can be addressed through medical intervention. For a period of time, when this idea gained some traction, it was referred to as PAS or “parental alienation syndrome”.

What is Parental Alienation?

This conception of alienation as a syndrome has been largely abandoned, but the terminology has stuck around as it best describes the phenomenon itself. In family law circles, you may thus hear of “alienated parent” to describe the parent that the child is estranged from and “aligned parent” to refer to the parent with whom they identify. In reality though, alienation manifests itself in many different ways, as there may be several reasons why a child aligns him or herself with one parent.

Sometimes, the child feels that they must do so in order to protect the aligned parent, as they may sense that if they show positive feelings towards the alienated parent, they will hurt the aligned parent. In such cases, it may be said that the child and the aligned parent are “enmeshed”, meaning that their emotions become entangled, such that if one becomes emotionally aggravated, a similar reaction can be seen in the other.

Other times, the child may be exposed to false comments about the other parent, thereby causing them to formulate a negative but incorrect impression of the other parent and develop the belief that the alienated parent is a threat to them.

Yet in other situations, a child may feel so torn between two parents, that they may feel no option but to align themselves with one parent over the other, as they come to believe that it is impossible to have a loving relationship with both.

These explanations are of course reductive and there is an abundance of studies that have sought to understand this phenomenon with its many nuances in more depth.

What can Courts do?

Matters where a child has become alienated from their parent are arguably among some of the most complex that can come to the attention of the family courts.

Ultimately, it must be remembered that the primary considerations that the courts will consider are the need to protect children from any form of harm and the benefit to the children of having a meaningful relationship with both parents.

This means that, in the first place, Courts will consider whether there is any risk of harm that the alienated parent can pose to the child and likewise, whether the aligned parent is a risk of harm to the child. For instance, a parent that repeatedly voices false allegations about another parent to a child to coach a child into rejecting the other parent may be found to be exposing the child to emotional harm. If a Court makes a finding that this presents an unacceptable risk of harm to the child, it has sometimes taken the drastic measure of removing the child from the aligned parent and placing him or her in the care of the alienated parent. However, the desirability of making such an Order always needs to be weighed against many other considerations, not the least of which is considering the likely impact such a step may have on the specific child in question.

Other less extreme measures can include orders for therapeutic intervention or forms of reintegration therapy, which can be most effective where parents are open and willing to work on repairing the relationship between the child and the alienated parent.

Suffice to say, there is no blanket approach when it comes to parental alienation. These matters can be extremely complex and judges often draw upon the assistance of various professionals to assist in their decision-making, such as social workers, psychologists, and family report writers.

What is sure is that, if you find yourself in such a situation, you need to take prompt action and obtain competent legal advice. The longer children remain alienated from a parent and the more likely they are to become entrenched in their position and find it difficult to reconcile with the alienated parent, which often leads to other undesirable outcomes, such as poor scholastic performance, struggles forming friendship with their peers and criminal behaviour to name but a few.

How can we help?

Our team at FEDOROV Family Lawyers based on the Gold Coast and Brisbane are ready to assist you. We specialise in all areas of family law, to learn more, contact us today on 1300 768 719 or reach out online using our online contact form.

Article written by:  Michelangelo Benedetti