“Why should children who were initially close to both parents suddenly seek to reject one of them?”. This is often the question on many parents’ minds when after their separation, one or
more of their children with whom prior to the divorce they had a close relationship with, suddenly is dismissive and cold towards them. In recent years, the Federal Circuit and Family
Court of Australia have faced an upward trend in the number of claims of parental alienation (PA). Assertions of PA have come to be a prominent topic in custody battles between parents.
The fundamental principle in Australian law concerning children is that all decisions made, and actions taken should be in their best interests. 1 This is the paramount consideration in
parenting cases and the aim of the Family Law Act with respect to children is “to ensure that children receive adequate and proper parenting to help them achieve their full potential, and
to ensure that parents fulfil their duties, and meet their responsibilities, concerning the care, welfare and development of their children”. 2 It is to no surprise that countless studies have
proven that having both parents actively involved in a child’s life can provide significant social, psychological and health benefits to the child in question. As well as this, it has been
proven that later down the line, there are higher chances for children to succeed in their chosen paths when a healthy relationship is fostered with both parents.
Thereby it is crucial for the long-term development of a child that although they may state that they do not wish to see a parent, unless there has been proven claims of sexual, physical
or emotional abuse, that the child should still be taught and strongly encouraged to foster these pivotal relationships with both parents. 3
Can the non-residential parent manipulate a child against their other parent?
Why does a child who may have had a prior healthy relationship with a parent after the divorce state that they no longer wish to see them? This is often what tends to occur after a
bitter separation between parents, whereby the alienating parent in a sense ‘coaches’ the child into believing a false negative narrative of the other parent. This is especially seen to occur
with fathers as they are often the non-residential parent and therefore more at risk of their child being exposed to inaccurate portrayals of them in the time that they are apart. This
behaviour is unfortunately not specifically prohibited by legislation and often occurs after an acrimonious separation. Either parent may fall victim to their behaviour by the other parent
and although this regrettably tends to be the father rather than the mother, in recent years there has been a rising number of cases where fathers employ this tactic against mothers as
- 1 Australian Law Reform Commission, The Best Interests Principle (Wesbite, 29 July 2010) 16.6
- Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s60B(1).
- Ludwig. F.Lowenstein, ‘Signs of Parental Alienation Syndrome and How to Counteract Its Effects’ (Ph.D Paper,
Southern England Psychological Services, 2005).
Signs of Parental Alienation (PA)
There are a number of signs that are recognisable in cases of PA. It is important to note that not all are applicable to every case, and it is to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. These
indicators below are not to be viewed in isolation but in combination when facing the difficult situation of being the alienated parent 5 :
- Lack of independent thinking from the child imitating the alienator’s thoughts and feelings.
- The alienating parent tends to seek to curtail all communication between the child and the alienated parent.
- The alienated parent is seen as the scapegoat. He or she is blamed for everything that has gone wrong with the child. There is no sense of ambivalence.
- The child is made to feel guilty for any love shown towards the alienated parent. The child will deny any involvement with the alienated parent, fearful of what the alienator would do to him or her.
- The child tends to paraphrase statements used by the alienating parent. The words used are often untypical of words likely to be used by a child.
- Children who are alienated no longer know truth from lies.
- The child who is alienated against the parent will often be alienated against the parent’s family also.
- Some alienators move away from where their ex partner resides in order to make visits difficult or impossible.
- Frivolous reasons are often given for not wanting to be with the alienated parent. Even when told that if these frivolous reasons were removed the child will often claim they do not wish to be with that parent under any circumstances.
- The child will speak about exaggerated or contrived abuse that has been experienced from the alienated parent.