Parental Alienation

OnlyDads hears the expression “parental alienation” every single day. Here we have a description from Charlotte Friedman which is nothing less than frightening!


A few years ago, whilst I was still a Barrister, I represented a mother in a residence dispute which went on for nine years.  The children were 5, 3 and 1 when it started and 14, 12 and 10 when it finished.

The parents had separated, and the mother had left the family home and taken the children with her to her relatives.

At the first Court hearing she won her interim residence of the girls. She said they were ‘terrified’ of their father. The court was understandably cautious.

Over the years there were many professional reports. Each said that the boys showed no fear of him and when observed, were warm towards him.  They said that the mother was manipulative.   However, her argument that the boys were terrified seemed to sway the court each time and one order after another was made allowing her to keep them, which meant that they would never see their father.

At each court appearance, the father, a highly educated respectable pillar of the community became more and more desperate in equal measure to his alienation from his children.

The mother stated she had no part to play in the girls hostility to their father and would pay lip service to facilitating contact whenever the girls were ready.  Of course they never were ready.  All the girls needed to say was that they did not want to go to contact and she would say fine.  Unlike school refusal, or reticence about the dentist, when she would insist and play a parental role, she felt unable to encourage them to see their father. ‘It is up to them’ she would say, allowing her 7 and 5 and 3 year old to not see him for months at a time. 

Over the years, two child and adolescent Psychiatrists interviewed the children as did two Cafcass officers, two family therapists, a child psychologist and finally a Guardian appointed through NYAS.  All stated that they felt the situation was highly unusual and their primary suspicion was that the mother was over involved with the children who were colluding with her belief that the father was not a suitable parent for them.

It was strange that until the separation, the mother had been quite happy to leave the children with their father on his own many times.  She had been quite happy for him to take them out on his own and go away for weekends with him.  Overnight, he became a ‘monster’ and someone highly unsuitable for the children, in her eyes.
When in a final desperate bid for contact, the Judge ordered 3 periods of supervised contact.  The boys refused, even though people they knew and trusted would be there with them.
NYAS sought a Care Order saying that the children would be better off removed from the mother so that they could feel free to have a relationship with their father. The Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist stated that the girls adult relationships would be severely impaired by their alienation from their father which had been borne out of a collusion with their mother’s paranoia.  The Guardian agreed.

Eventually, the Judge found that the court process that the girls had been exposed to was abusive in itself and that to remove them from their home where apart from the proceedings, they were happy and settled and doing well educationally was so far removed from their interests that the proceedings needed to finish.  In short, although of course he had not ruled out contact for the father, the effect was that these girls would now continue to be brought up with their mother with no prospect of any relationship with their father and all that would mean for them and their future.

I do not think that justice was done and the people who suffered most in those proceedings were the children who were allowed by the legal system to maintain their position. I think often of that father who has been deprived of his children with no evidence of any abuse whatsoever, and of his children who have been deprived of him.

Now as a therapist, I see many people who have suffered as a result of not being able to have an equal relationship with their children or a relationship at all.  That overnight, somehow with separation, a ‘good enough’ parent is not good enough at all.  If people were able to keep in mind their childrens needs when they were denigrating the other parent to the children, then they would enable them to grow up as healthy adults with an ability to form good relationships themselves. For parents left out of family life and unable to see their children growing up, it is unbelievably painful.  A system which didn’t allow this to happen would be in everyone’s best interests.

Some of the facts in this article have been changed in order to preserve confidentiality and anonymity.

Charlotte Friedman – Divorce support Group


About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
This entry was posted in Family Law, Family Law Fortnight, Guest posts, Putting children first. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Parental Alienation

  1. suzymiller says:

    Powerful article Charlotte. I am shocked at how few professionals there are who can guide parents through breakup in ways that protect the kids from the relationship fall-out. I keep spaces for such professionals at the Starting Over Show events but sometimes struggle to find anyone who has the skills and experience in the localities. I think we need @SueAtkins to start a parenting coaching academy!

  2. Bumbling says:

    Can I ask if anyone has any guidance as to how to get a young child who pushes against one parent to spend more time with them? The problem is that the railing against makes it difficult for the parent to react normally – it’s hard to know what to do when a toddler kicks and screams and says “no daddy” all the time.

    The trouble is that I think that this behaviour isn’t necessarily because of “alienation” but might just be something that toddlers do! But the separation makes it much more emotional for the parents, and therefore difficult to deal with. I desperately want them to spend time together, but it seems so painful for all concerned. Any tips?

  3. Anna Ellis says:

    @Bumbling, I experienced similar issues with my children at the start of contact arrangements and I know how painful it can be for all concerned. Part of it is due to the age of the toddler – they naturally go through phases where they only “want” one of the parents.

    Some things that helped me at the time:

    Make sure the “rejected” parent has a favourite book or toy with them at the start of contact – there’s a lot of “ooh, shiny” in a toddler’s mental makeup and they can often be distracted with their Peppa Pig plushy. If necessary, hand over a favourite toy to the other parent and the toddler may just go with it (even if only to get the toy back).

    Ignore the tantrums and hum/sing a song they like. If they crank up the tantrum, crank up the volume. It works, but unfortunately I got stuck with the tune to “Wheels on the Bus” for 18 months…

    If the little one’s staying overnight, let them take one of your jumpers with you for bedtime snuggling. Not sure why this works (scent?) but anything that gets them into a routine…

    Charlotte, it makes my blood boil to find this sort of manipulation going on. Was the father never granted even a limited contact order, or did the mother just point blank refuse to let their children see him? I feel so very sorry for all concerned, including the mother – those children may well feel a need to reach out to their dad in later years; how will her relationship with them survive when they find he’s not a monster after all?

  4. Bob says:

    its been 12 years since I had any contact with my children during the 2 year court battle my ex resorted to the most evil tactic’s to alienate my children from me and made accusations of a abuse to the courts that at one point even got me arrested and questioned. At this point I got some help from an unexpected source my Ex’s best friend who I had never got on with but even she thought the arrest was going to far as she knew what my ex was saying was a lie. However my ex then accused me of having an affair with her and so added fuel to the fire. I did in then end win access rights however the day I was supposed to see them she changed the date to conflict with a big party for there granddad (her Dad) then told them I had changed the date because I wanted to be with my girlfriend on the old date and I knew about the party but insisted I see them. so they refused to see me I was told they where very distressed about it and knew then that the only way I could protect me children from any further distress was to withdrawn my application from the court. It was the most devastating decision‎ I have ever had to make. The pain you feel is not just mental you can physically feel it and its totally unbearable at one point I took an overdose of pain killers not with the thought of killing myself I just wanted the pain to go away and I didn’t care about the consiquensis. To anyone who feels this go see a bereavement councillor it does help not to get over it but to live with it.

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