What is parental alienation?
Decades ago, it was called ‘taking sides’ but now it’s recognised as parental alienation – where one parent attempts to turn their child against the other parent. It’s becoming increasingly common in custody disputes and it can take a range of forms.
The term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) originated in the United States when it was first used by a child psychiatrist in the mid-1980s.
PAS is widely recognised in Australian courts and it is sometimes a central consideration in how the courts award custody.
What forms can parental alienation take?
There are a number of ways in which one parent can attempt to influence their child against the other parent. Sometimes, it’s subtle and unintentional but at other times, there are overt ‘campaigns’ against the other parent. Tactics include:
- Denigrating the other parent in front of the child
- Encroaching on the other parent’s designated time with the child, for example by withholding access or even excessively texting the other parent during their time with the child
- Encouraging the child to ‘keep secrets’ from the other parent
How is parental alienation addressed in the courts?
PAS is an issue that is often addressed in therapy and discussed with both parties.
Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) or the mediation process, can be a very useful one, although if domestic violence exists it may not proceed. If it does proceed it can raise and consider PAS, however it is unlikely that it would solve the problem of parental alienation.
It is not the role of FDR to delve as thoroughly into the past and present relationships as Family Therapy does. If left unchecked, PAS could also become an inter-generational problem, affecting relationships within a family for the rest of their lives.
Parental alienation was recently considered by the court in the case of Lankester & Cribb (2018). PAS in this case was caused by the mother’s unsubstantiated belief that the father had sexually abused the child.
It was determined there was no medical evidence which supported the mother’s continuous allegations, despite various tests and examinations.
The Judge determined that the child needed to be “protected from the continued likely escalation of that emotional manipulation and harm, and the likely destruction of her relationship with her father”.
In this case, parental alienation had resulted in the moving of the child from the primary care of one parent, to the other and preventing the child from spending time with one parent for a set period of time.
The Judge recognised that a change in living arrangements would likely involve “grief, loss, confusion, a high level of stress, intrusive thoughts about the mother and missing the mother constantly”. However, this was “outweighed by the risks that presented for her in the mother’s primary care, including the need for the child to conform to the mother’s view that were psychologically and emotionally damaging to her.”
Each matter is unique and needs to be addressed according to your personal circumstances and needs.
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