Parental alienation: The dangers of influencing children’s feelings toward their other parent

In some cases, particularly after a particularly bitter or acrimonious separation, a child’s feelings towards one parent can be psychologically manipulated by the other.

Known as parental alienation, it’s a situation that can be extremely damaging and harmful for those involved. In response, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) introduced a new scheme last year in a bid to tackle the problem.

CAFCASS make recommendations in family court cases, to the court making sure children’s voices are heard in family court settings and that decisions are made in their best interests.

What is parental alienation?

At the extreme end of the scale, parental alienation is when one parent deliberately tries to turn a child against their ex-partner with the aim of excluding that parent from the child’s life and cutting off contact.

Parental alienation is estimated to occur in 11-15% of divorces involving children and CAFCASS believes this number is rising.

There can be varying degrees of parental alienation from mild to severe. Examples from CAFCASS include: ‘a parent constantly badmouthing or belittling the other; limiting contact; forbidding discussion about them; and creating the impression that the other parent dislikes or does not love the child.’

Serious cases involve a parent trying to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent with the aim of putting an end to contact between them.

Tackling parental alienation

CAFCASS has confirmed that parental alienation occurs in a significant number of the 125,000 cases it deals with every year.

In Spring 2018, in response to the issue it introduced a new scheme called the ‘High Conflict Pathway’ for use in all cases of suspected parental alienation.

The framework will help professionals to assess cases when dealing with high levels of parental conflict and alienating behaviour.

It will also give parents the opportunity to change their behaviour with the help of an intensive 12-week ‘positive parenting programme.’

The scheme has been developed to provide a clear framework for the assessment of such behaviours on children and to help professionals see more closely what is happening on a case by case basis.

Any intervention offered will depend on each individual case and will include therapy to help parents address their behaviour and recognise the impact on the child.

In the most extreme cases, it’s been widely reported CAFCASS will recommend the child should be removed from the ‘alienating’ parent and they may be denied contact.

Parental alienation can be a very complex matter and the impact extremely to harmful to those involved. The new range of measures demonstrate a real commitment to tackle the problem and raise awareness of this issue.


It’s fair to say the family courts already have measures at their disposal to deal with severe cases of parental alienation, for example changing who the child should live with.

Nevertheless, the new framework demonstrates this issue is being taken extremely seriously, recognising there can be varying degrees of parental alienation which can have a negative emotional and psychological impact on a child.

Until now, parental alienation has been dealt with on a case by case basis. A more defined approach will help to reduce the detrimental effects on the numbers of children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in this position.

Cases of this kind can be very difficult and our solicitors at Harrogate Family Law are experienced in dealing with all the complexities, resolving disputes and supporting parents. It is vitally important to take the right approach from the outset in issues over the care of your children.  This can avoid protracted disputes but, if it doesn’t, you will be in the best position to successfully resolve the issues through the court process. If you have concerns or questions about any of the issues raised in this article please get in touch.

Call us today on 01423 594680.

Andrew Meehan is an experienced family lawyer specialising in complex divorces involving significant or hidden assets, as well as cases involving children.

He is recommended for family law by both Chambers 2019 (York, Hull and surrounding regions) and the Legal 500 2018 (Leeds/West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire region).

Everyone’s circumstances are different and this article is provided by way of general information only and must not be replied upon.  If you require legal advice on a family law issue, please feel free to contact us by emailing