Parental Alienation: Why Is It Affecting So Many Women?
Finding out that your ex has been making accusations about you is distressing in any circumstance.
But what happens when these accusations imply you’re deliberately turning your own children against your ex?
You could find yourself facing an allegation of parental alienation. It’s a situation that’s becoming increasingly common in the family courts, often with damaging consequences.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is recognised as “when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”
It’s a serious allegation and one which increasing numbers of women are finding themselves accused of by their exes. Recent research from Brunel University London suggests that claims of alienation are rising.
Sadly, research also points towards this being a gendered issue. With father’s tending to claim alienation, often depicting their ex as a ‘hostile mother’.
The prevalence of these accusations in the separation process is a real cause for concern. The charity Women’s Aid has reported on how claims of alienation are frequently being used to distract from allegations of domestic abuse.
When co-parenting goes wrong
We all know separation is an emotionally charged process. But even with your best intentions at heart, how does it so often end up going wrong with the kids?
I spoke to Systemic Psychologist, Leigh Moriarty, who specialises in supporting families through the transition of separation and divorce. While family law experts Trethowans have offered their legal guidance.
What triggers parental alienation claims?
I wanted to get to the bottom of what ultimately leads a father to accuse the mother of his children of alienation:
“Accusations of parental alienation are common when the relationship is punctuated by high levels of conflict” Leigh explained.
“Contributing factors can include fear and anxiety of losing their child to the other parent, often combined with unresolved issues within the historical context of their relationship.
Allegations can also arise when there isn’t a robust co-parenting relationship which enables them as parents to centralise the needs of the child. And, in some cases, the process is triggered when the other parent meets a new partner.”
Issues of coercive control can also play a part.
“What can also occur is that children who lived with a parent who was abusive, coercive and controlling, may be reluctant to spend time with them after separation. This parent may then decide to accuse the other of alienation.”
Has covid made things worse?
The global pandemic has complicated so many relationships and may even have exacerbated parental alienation accusations, according to Associate family solicitor at Trethowans, Laura Bell, who told me:
“Throughout the recent pandemic, where families have found themselves having to isolate, or where there have been COVID-19 cases within the children’s ‘bubble’ at school, this has created difficulties with children being able to spend time with their parents as per their normal routine.”
“Although isolation would almost certainly provide a ‘reasonable excuse’ for contact not to take place, it can create a grey area (especially if there is a pattern of missed contact forming) as to whether the children are being deliberately withheld from one parent.”
How to face false accusations
What seems worryingly clear is that alienation allegations can easily be made, even when a mother may be trying to maintain safe contact.
So what should you do if you find yourself wrongfully accused? Trethowans has helped many women in this situation, Laura was keen to stress that there is support out there and gave me her advice:
Seek legal advice from a specialist, from the outset. This will help you find out what options are available to you, and will give you guidance on how to move forward.
Keep a contact diary to record when the children spend time with each parent – this can be helpful to refer to in the future.
Keep at the forefront of your mind what you could do to promote contact and the relationship between the children and their other parent, and act on it!
This could be, for example, making sure that the children buy Mother’s / Father’s Day presents for their other parent on these special days, or trying to be flexible in rearranging contact if time is missed due to holidays or sickness.
What does the law say?
How do alienation allegations affect the separation and custody process? I asked Laura for the legal view:
“Accusations are taken seriously by the Court, and will need to be managed within any Court proceedings. A Judge’s view on the accusation will depend entirely on the evidence before the Court.
When dealing with accusations of alienation, both parties will be expected to provide a formal written response to these allegations. A good legal team will prepare this documentation on your behalf, and ensure that this is carefully drafted. This is important because this document is often referred to by the Court when the parties are giving oral evidence.”
However, the court is by no means the only route for dealing with parental alienation.
“Court proceedings should always be considered the last resort. We would always encourage our clients to consider other methods of resolution, which could include Mediation or even Child-Led Mediation.
………Options should not only include ‘legal’ options. Family therapists, family consultants and even the children’s school can assist in providing the family with support, and re-building relationships.”
Support for separating families
If you are separating and are keen to support your children through it, avoiding any issues around alienation, Leigh has some essential guidance:
Get your stories straight
The first thing to do is to agree with your ex on what you’ll tell the children. It is so important for parents to present children with a shared narrative about the separation which is age appropriate.
Put a plan in place
Put your child’s practical and emotional needs first and develop a co-parenting plan with these in mind. This will enable your child to see you working together to prioritise them.
Keep kids out of the conflict
Do your best to shield children from any conflict, especially when it comes to collecting or dropping them off with your ex. Establishing an effective handover that avoids tensions or arguments with your ex is key.
Communication is everything
Encourage your child to express their feelings with both parents and to talk positively about their time with either parent. And lastly, never pass messages through your child.
Should you find yourself facing legal proceedings, enlist an expert and ensure they prepare you well added Laura Bell of Trethowans:
“Ensure you’re getting good, clear advice too. This is often such an emotional time, it can be difficult to distinguish what is important or relevant from a Court’s perspective.
…………A legal team with experience in these matters will help you make an informed decision. A good legal team will also have an established network of third parties – it is extremely important to have trusted recommendations of organisations who can help you at such a stressful time.”
If you are separating and requiring legal support, talk to Trethowans. The family law team works closely with a number of experts to ensure that each client receives the full package of support. They’ll help you navigate the complexities of separation as painlessly as possible.
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