Understanding Parental Alienation: Behaviours, Effects, and Next Steps

Parental alienation is a distressing phenomenon that can occur during separation or divorce, where one parent manipulates a child's emotions and behaviours to foster a negative view of the other parent. This form of psychological manipulation can have severe consequences for the child and the targeted parent. In this blog post, we will delve into the concept of parental alienation, explore the signs and effects it can have on families, and discuss the legal remedies available in Queensland. If you require legal assistance regarding parental alienation or any other family law matter, Pullos Lawyers can help.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation refers to deliberate and systematic actions taken by one parent to distance the child from the other parent. It typically involves a range of manipulative tactics, such as making derogatory remarks about the targeted parent, limiting contact or communication, and fostering a sense of fear or guilt in the child's mind. It is essential to recognise that parental alienation can occur to various degrees, from mild to severe, and can have long-lasting effects on the child's well-being and the parent-child relationship.

While Parental alienation is recognised in academic literature, is not explicitly referred to in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). This is because the term is highly contested; when recognised, it can pose significant risks, such as a claim of parental alienation being made in order to disregard claims of abuse made by the child against a parent.

What Behaviours Constitute Parental Alienation?

Alienating parents frequently engage in harmful parenting practices. Here are some examples of behaviour that may amount to parental alienation:

  • Denigrating the other parent in front of the child - making derogatory remarks or speaking negatively about the other parent in the presence of the child is a common behaviour associated with parental alienation.
  • The alienating parent may intentionally try to limit or completely prevent the child from spending time with the other parent, often disregarding court-ordered parenting schedules.
  • Interfering with the other parent's designated parenting time, such as excessive texting or creating unnecessary conflicts, is another form of alienating behaviour.
  • The alienating parent may manipulate the child's perception by distorting or reconstructing memories of past events, resulting in the child developing false and damaging beliefs about the other parent.
  • Keeping secrets or instructing the child not to share certain information with the other parent. This can create a sense of secrecy and undermines open communication.
  • False allegations of abuse against the other parent may be made as a desperate attempt to prevent the child from spending time with them.

How Do I Know if It’s Parental Alienation?

Family dynamics can be complex, and unfortunately, some families experience a breakdown or loss of a relationship between two or more family members in the form of estrangement. This can happen due to a variety of reasons - some children may begin to reject the relationship with the other parent, or the relationship may gradually deteriorate over time.

There are also instances where a parent seeking to restrict contact with the other parent is warranted in order to protect a child – for example, cases involving family violence, child abuse and child sexual abuse.

Other causes of estrangement may include inadequate parenting, ongoing conflict, emotional distance, communication difficulties, divergent values, or significant life changes.

In these situations, the child may exhibit mixed feelings towards the parent and be able to provide valid justifications for their emotions and perspective.
In situations of parental alienation, it is not uncommon for the child to harbour strong negative feelings towards the alienated parent, despite these emotions being unjustified or even based on false reasons. The child is swayed by the distorted narrative presented to them, resulting in a skewed perception of the alienated parent.

What Are the Effects?

Parental alienation can have significant emotional and psychological effects on both the child and the targeted parent.

Some common effects include;

Emotional Distress
The child may experience anxiety, depression, or emotional instability due to the manipulation and conflict.

Damaged Parent-Child Relationship
The bond between the targeted parent and the child may become strained or severed, leading to a breakdown in trust and connection.

Low Self-Esteem
The child may develop low self-esteem and self-worth as a result of the negative messages and manipulation.

Long-Term Impact
Parental alienation can have lasting effects into adulthood, affecting the child's ability to form healthy relationships and navigate their own parenting roles.

What Do I Do if I Suspect Parental Alienation?

Look into Parenting courses
It may be worthwhile attending a parenting course to help your child and you as parents navigate this next step. It may be that what appears to be the early stages of parental alienation is actually another issue that hasn't been communicated properly. There are many free or subsidised courses available, such as Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, and you don’t need a referral to access these.

Seek Counselling and Support
In addition to parenting courses, counselling or therapeutic interventions for both the child and the targeted parent can be beneficial in addressing the emotional impact of parental alienation and rebuilding the parent-child relationship.

Seek Mediation and Family Dispute Resolution
Mediation or family dispute resolution may be useful in helping to address any issues and work towards a resolution that prioritises the best interests of the child and aids communication between all parties.

Parenting Orders
Where mediation is unsuccessful, you can consider commencing parenting proceedings. The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) provides provisions for parenting orders that can be sought through the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court. These orders can help establish and enforce appropriate parenting arrangements and minimise the effects of parental alienation.

Need Trusted Help Regarding Suspected Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is a deeply concerning issue that can have severe consequences for families undergoing separation or divorce. Recognising the signs and taking appropriate legal action as soon as possible are crucial in protecting the well-being of the child and restoring the parent-child relationship. Cassandra Pullos is an accredited mediator, arbitrator and parenting coordinator. Her and the Pullos team are dedicated to providing exceptional service and the highest quality advice, designed specifically to achieve the best possible outcomes for you across all family law issues, including child support and parenting arrangements. Get in touch with us on 5526 3646 or via our contact page to take the first step towards resolving parental alienation with the guidance and expertise of Pullos Lawyers. We’d love to help.