The Battle for Britain’s Alienated Children

Parental Alienation has become such a hot topic in the UK that everywhere one looks a petition is being launched, an article on the issue is in the media, even Woman’s Hour covered the topic recently. Meanwhile the head of CAFCASS (GAL service for our stateside readers), has confirmed that parental alienation is child abuse, although not quite as those of us who work with the issue know it.

Watching the way in which the subject, which only five years ago was readily dismissed by family court professionals, is now being rehabilitated, I am aware of the dangers ahead for parents  who think that now that the subject is being openly aired, all will be well and the problem eradicated.  I wish I could agree but I can’t. The sense of foreboding that comes with the cosy chats around the kitchen table approach to this problem is immense, it heralds an era in which the very reality of the problem we are working with is about to be rebranded. Far from feeling that our work here is done I am reminded that the battle for Britain in terms of the responses to the problem of parental alienation, has really just begun.  Here is an indepth, serious take, on what is really going on here.

I was reading an article yesterday by Benjamin Garber (2015), in which he discussed the differences between desensitisation approaches and reversal of custody (transfer of residence) interventions in the highly phobic and contact resistant child. The article describes the differences in approaches and concludes clearly that ‘this work can be excruciating.’  I agree.  Not only is it excrutiating, it is exhausting and mentally draining.

Working at the coal face of the lives of people who may have personality disorder, who may be replicating generational parenting patterns and with people who do not know that what they are doing is harmful, is about as difficult as it gets for a practitioner. Doing this work requires knowledge, skill, tenacity and courage. If it is done properly, it requires a pracitioner to be able to work in a boundaryless system without a safety net.  Risk averse practitioners need not apply to do this work.  This is because within the lack of proper recognition of Parental Alienation in every one of the UK governing bodies of practitioners, lies the positive sanction written about by Judith Pilla for the Parental Alienation Studies Group. This positive sanction creates a double bind for the practitioner who works with parental alienation because by doing the right thing for the child, one is courting complaint and sanction by a governing body.

This leads to a culture in which the interventions are watered down to fit the requirements of the governing body rather than the other way around, which is to educate and push the governing body to recognise the right kind of practice.  And therein lies the reality of what is going on here in the UK around the issue of parental alienation. Instead of the recognition of the issue as a serious mental health problem in which the underlying power dynamic plays a significant part in the harming of children, the issue is being watered down to fit the consciousness of the family court professionals and the risk averse population of practitioners who work with the issue.  In short, we are being readied for the idea that ‘a little bit of family therapy’ is what will resolve this problem.  This horrible, pernicious, deeply damaging form of emotional, mental and psychological child abuse, is being rebranded for the masses as something which can be sorted out by getting everyone to be nice to each other.  Even mediation, which, as anyone who has ever worked with an alienated child will know is a particularly pointless endeavour in such cases, is being trotted out (again) as the early intervention of choice.  It’s parental alienation, but not as those of us who really work with it know and understand it.

Making the problem of parental alienation fit existing therapeutic and diagnostic models is one of those things which Dr Childress has been so particularly vocal about in recent years.  I am with him on this and I am equally as angry and despairing when I see how parents are being duped into believing that because suddenly everyone wants to talk about parental alienation, somehow this means that the new dawn has arrived.  Let me tell you this.  The new dawn in this work has not and will not arrive until the problem is matched by the interventions known to work, those internationally researched and evidenced strategies which are shown, in practice, to replicate positive outcomes again and again and again.  Instead of trying to shoe horn the problem of parental alienation into existing models of work such as family therapy or metalisation techniques or worse still therapeutic mediation, the models proven to deliver to children the freedom from the alienation reaction, the recovery from the emotional and psychgological damage and the perspective which has been taken from them, are only those which should be used.

Even as I write however, I know I write in vain because I know that the watering down of the problem of parental alienation has begun in the UK and it will continue until it becomes a meaningless phrase which is used to describe every case of a child refusing to see a parent.  One thing I know about UK politics, which is born of twenty plus years of working in this field is this, when the pendulum swings it well and truly swings, which means that for parental alienation, once the absolute pariah of terms, acceptance of the cosy understanding of it which is being touted around right now, is on its way.  Soon parental alienation will be something that everyone and anyone has experienced and a little bit of family therapy will soon put that right. Cue hordes of parents being shunted off to have that little bit of family therapy, cue similar hordes of bewildered families exiting stage left  having been ‘treated’ by practitioners who think they have the antidote when in fact what they have is a risk averse approach which resolves nothing in real terms.  In the midst of this will remain another generation of children who are over entitled, over empowered and alienated from their own right to a normal healthy childhood. But they will have some kind of relationship with the parent they once rejected because in this world, even a couple of hours on a Saturday which they as children get to choose whether they want or not, will be counted as a success.

I know I sound cynical, I wish I didn’t. I guess I always knew we would end up here and I really wish we didn’t have to.  Doing the work is hard enough, fighting the social policy and practice battle only makes it harder.  But I have done this work for long enough to know that being a practitioner in this field requires one to do two things, a) treat the problem successfully and b) fight hard to ensure that the right way to treat the problem is recognised and used by as many other practitioners as possible.  I have been treating parental alienation for over ten years now and have worked with more alienated children than I care to count.  I have also been writing, talking, training and arguing the case for the right way to treat parental alienation for as many years as I have been working with the problem. As the issue enters mainstream consciousness, now more than ever is the time to speak and clearly.  Another generation of children’s health and wellbeing depends upon it.

The international evidence is clear on how to deal with the problem, the delivery of support to families which is underpinned by that evidence is equally clear and successful.  Though it may make those risk averse practitioners who want the problem to fit their existing model, anxious,  the truth of the matter is that the problem of parental alienation will never be properly dealt with and resolved or eradicated until the following issues are addressed.

  1. The underlying power dynamic which gives the unwell parent the control over the psychological self of the child is the core dynamic which must be dealt with.
  2. The reality that many alienating parents have personality disorders or problematic psychological profiles,  means that they are non responsive to therapy.
  3. Parental alienation is not a parental rights issue, it is a mental health issue which causes harm to the child and as such it is a child protection issue.
  4. Not all children’s resistance to a relationship with a parent after separation is an alienation reaction, leading to the necessity for clearly defined models of differentiation which should only be used by properly trained professionals.
  5. A transfer of residence is a gold standard approach  which should be used with care after clear delineation of the problem to avoid transferring the problem with the child.
  6. A child who remains in a position to choose whether they will see a parent or not is a child who remains alienated and affected by the underlying problem of psychological splitting. Any treatment which leaves a child in this position is abusive to the child and not successful.
  7. Treatment of parental alienation is not a long drawn out process, does not require desensitisation and does not require the rejected parent to do anything other than continue to be the good enough parent that they already are. Treatment which requires the rejected parent to change is not treatment for parental alienation and should be avoided always.
  8. Anyone training other practitioners to work with alienated children and their families should have demonstrable success in reuniting children with parents and eivdence of direct work with alienated children.
  9. Wholesale generic training to family services is not something which will bring about the eradication of the problem of parental alienation, which will exist regardless of how many initiatives or strategies to make it illegal are introduced.  Parental alienation is a mental health problem and mental health problems largely do not respond to rules and regulations but to the emotional drives and schema of the unwell parent.
  10. Parental alienation as an issue, is properly located in the field of children’s mental health.

Fortunately, though I can sound despondent, I am also hopeful.  Hopeful because of the group of legal and mental health professionals we are working with who truly understand the problem and who know that the evidence base of successful outcomes using international standards, is growing apace. Already we have demonstrated success in England and Wales, where  CAFCASS and CAFCASS Cymru Guardians have worked with us to bring about swift and significant change for children, none of which was about fitting the problem into a safe and approved model of work but about matching our interventions based on international evidence to the problem.  We do not offer family therapy as standard, we do not offer lengthy open ended interventions and we do not seek to change the rejected parent in order to appease the alienator.  What we do is assess and address the power dynamic, understanding who has power over the child, how it is held and maintained and how it can be diffused.  We use a partnership approach with the legal framework, seeking to have the Judge hold the framework firm whilst we do the work of reuniting the child. And then we do a piece of work with all members of the family in order to establish the child within a family framework in which the child is helped to build resilience and the previously alienating parent is monitored, assessed and supported to change, if change is possible. If it is not possible, either because of longer term deeper mental health problems, we protect the child’s right to live their remaining childhood in unconscious enjoyment whilst helping them to maintain a safe relationship with the risky parent.  If necessary we will advocate complete protection from a parent to preserve the child’s right to unconscious enjoyment of their childhood.  We do this because we know that damage that alienation does and the damage that continued exposure to an alienating parent whose behaviour remains unmoderated, can do.

Children first. And not a single part of what we do relies upon children’s wishes and feelings.  This is because we know that in parental alienation cases, the wishes and feelings of the child are not their own but those of the unwell parent who is using the child as a conduit for the furthering of their own agenda. At times this is an unconscious agenda, in that the parent is mentally unwell and unable to understand that what they are doing, at others it is a conscious one, in which mental health problems coexist with a cold and ruthless determination to renact a trauma pattern. Either way, parental alienation is not an issue of high conflict and it is not an issue concerned with a parent’s right to have a relationship with a child. It is a serious mental health and child protection issue, it is extremely difficult to work with and it is never helped by anyone having some kind of therapy.

In the battle for Britain’s alienated children, don’t let the zeitgeist fool you, we are nowhere near the eradication of the problem. In truth, the battle to get the problem of parental alienation properly recognised and responded to ( instead of dumbed down and ultimately dismissed), has only really just begun.

Garber, B D.  Cognitive Behavioural Methods in High Conflict Divorce: Family Court Review, Vol.53 No 1, January 2015 96-112

51 thoughts on “The Battle for Britain’s Alienated Children

  1. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “A child who remains in a position to choose whether they will see a parent or not is a child who remains alienated and affected by the underlying problem of psychological splitting. Any treatment which leaves a child in this position is abusive to the child and not successful.
    Treatment of parental alienation is not a long drawn out process, does not require desensitisation and does not require the rejected parent to do anything other than continue to be the good enough parent that they already are. Treatment which requires the rejected parent to change is not treatment for parental alienation and should be avoided always.”


  2. Another great article Karen, and I totally agree with you that we are only at the start of what will be a long and painful journey towards getting to grips with (probably though, never irradiating) parental alienation.

    It is the worst situation I have faced in my life, and I would never wish it on anyone.

    Sadly, the effects since reunification are still there, and I am seeing one of my daughters become the paranoid person harbouring irrational fears, that I guessed she would develop in to. This is all down to a generational situation; something I have witnessed developing from grandmother to mother, and mother to daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Family Judges are the real culprits in refusing to acknowledge or recognise what is blatantly obvious to normal people. Wilful gross negligence which is impossible to rectify in a secret closed system. One of the most disgraceful forms of real neglect today.


  4. Yes. From the child’s perspective pure parental alienation requires immediate intervention.

    If you are in Court and have the money and the Court is willing and the therapist understands the situation the child can be removed from one parent and placed with another.

    Most family break-up situations never get this far, and it is unlikely they ever will.

    For those of us adults who have lived through a family break-up it is all about finding a way to continue being a parent.

    Some of us deal with family break-up better than others.

    It is important that we understand we are dealing with pure alienation because in most cases it is the failure of parents to adapt that causes the problems.

    Alienation blossoms in settings that are conducive. People behave badly, narcissistically as a matter of choice (mostly).

    When we say “family therapy” is not the way to go, the kind of family therapy specifically tailored to parental alienation is what saved my family.

    If I had gone to Court and been analysed to the extent that one parent was perceived as ok and the other not, and my children split accordingly that would have been far worse for all my family.
    1 If I had won the kids mother would probably have disappeared in a huff, or maybe tried to re-start the court process with another “expert opinion”
    2 If she had won I would have descended into some deep self-loathing exercise, finding temporary respite in blogs
    3 If neither of us parents had won and the kids had been taken into care I might have been making mischief in society and claiming nobody listens to me/us.
    4 All of the above would have been disastrous for the children because all the outcomes dissolve the relationship of a child with one or all of their parents…. they split which only exacerbates the alienation process.

    As it happened I knew I had a potential alienator on my hands (I had read the books). I did lose in Court, or more accurately I did not get the 50:50 I thought would be desirable. But I/we laboured on doing the best we could, training manual in one hand with appropriate sections highlighted and child in other screaming Daddy you don’t love us anymore.
    So the kids have two parents, and neither of us is perfect, we have been through a rough time. Some bad things have been said, but at least the kids know we are not perfect, they know we are different, they know I think their Mum has good qualities and most importantly both parents are available to them.

    Kind regards


    1. All well and good when the child is screaming , you don’t love us anymore’ that’s not parental alienation- when the child is screaming I hate you and you abused me and I am never going to see you again – all the family therapy in the world isn’t going to fix it – nor are books and bring nice to one another. This is what I mean about parental alienation being rebranded – everyone who has had a bit of a tough time with their kids is going to claim parental alienation when it is nothing of the sort. Pa is horrible it is cold cruel and vicious to experience and the child is lost to a mental health presentation which can be terrifying to witness. Transitional difficulties and post separation adjustment issues are not parental alienation and it is really unwise and actually demeaning to people who suffer pa to try and make It anything other than what it truly is. Parental alienation is a horrible, cruel, cold and deeply damaging phenomenon and it causes children to enter into a cold and hostile refusing state of mind in which they truly believe a parent is dangerous or that a parent has done something to them. A child in such a state of mind cannot be helped by therapy of any kind in my experience, only the change in dynamics around the child will help. K


      1. Defining Parental Alienation as how a child behaves seems to miss the point. Parental Alienation is the steady Alienation tactics of one Parent towards the other Parent. It is the Alienating Parent who needs professional help before the children are effected. It is The Family Courts who need to recognise the early signs of how one parent is behaving, and then to act quickly and decisively. Too many, usually ‘older’ judges are too scared to change the status quo (of child’s primary carer) and are unwilling to intervene, preferring to take little or more usually no action. Cafcass must also take blame with many officers harbouring jurassic views and opinions about who the primary carer should be. Lets be completely honest here and acknowledge that by far the majority of alienators are in fact the mothers who have primary care. How many cases have we heard of where the father is the alienator? Finally, money doesn’t come into it when a judge is lazy, incompetent or just plain negligent/ neglecting. Those kind of judges are so convinced of their own opinion and righteousness that money ( in the form of expensive barristers or solicitors) can be counter-productive, instead leading the judge to be even more determined to ignore the pleading, alienated parent.
        Changing a child’s surname illegally, contact (indirect or direct) denial, breaching court orders, implacable hostility are all clear and obvious signs of an alienator at work. Family Judges need to wake up and recognise these irrefutable and blatant warning bells and act quickly before the real damage is done to our children, not wait until matters have become so entrenched that so called experts need to attempt to intervene.


      2. Oh dear someone, you are pretty far wide of the mark in your comments and I hope that others will not take you to task too strongly on your assumptions in your comments. You are completely off the mark when you talk about alienators being mostly mothers, in our practice we see an almost even split of mothers and fathers who are alienated and you are way way way off the mark in your comments about the alienated child. Parental alienation is the combination of the reaction in the child which is brought about by the actions in the alienating parent and sometimes, the reactions from the target parent. Your analysis about the alienating parent needing help before the children are affected is pretty off the mark too, often it is not possible to stop a child becoming alienated because it can happen in a split second, a moment, an incident, a trigger point and that is it, the child trips over into the coping mechanism and bang, that’s your chance to stop it gone. Your analysis also speaks loudly of the parental rights group FNF where the idea that primary carers get to alienate children and that can be rectified by a 50/50 shared care arrangement abounds. And your rather snidey comment about so called experts along with the somewhat disrespectful sneering at judges, many of whom are the only people who can hold a case of parental alienation steady enough to enable the mental health intervention to trigger positive change, is just lazy sniping. I think you need to shape up your understanding myself and stop making parental alienation something it is not. It is not co-parenting problems, it is not transitional difficulties and it is demeaning others to try and make those things the same as parental alienation because they are not.


    2. Co-parenting difficulties are not alienation. Alienation in our case is a 17 year-old who sends hateful texts full of his mother’s feelings about his father: that he’s “harsh, cruel and undeserving”, “arrogant”, has “anger issues”, that “you know you lost the fight but still hope there is a chance”, blah blah blah. All projections of his mother’s feelings, in my opinion. All of this after not even seeing his father for a year, and certainly not having any negative interactions of any kind between him and his fathe,r or seeing any negative interaction between his parents for that time. My husband was by no means perfect, but no amount of twisting himself into a pretzel to “get along” with his ex was going to stop this eventual outcome.

      Karen, I’m glad you have hope, I don’t have much for the US. I watched how easily the alienating parent fooled therapists and courts, how she and my stepson convinced all of them that we were the alienators and that she was the victim. It’s such a bizarre dynamic that even though I am a mental health professional, I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, and until court professionals are thoroughly trained and parental alienation is REALLY understood and accepted, nothing will change.


      1. If the Courts had picked up on the early signs and alarm bells the problems wouldn’t become so entrenched. It is a damning indictment on the Courts that cases like your’s are allowed to become so extreme. Courts (Judges) close their eyes and ears too often and this only fuels the problem. Failure to enforce Court Orders, failure to recognise and act early in implacable hostility cases creates and encourages and endorses the perfect conditions for the alienator.


      2. I think you are somewhat ignorant of the reality of parental alienation whoever you are. you speak of it as something which can be remedied by structural means only, it is a foolish and uniformed approach and actually quite offensive to the people who work in this arena and so I won’t be posting anymore comments of this nature because it doesn’t help anyone to hear these opinions.


      3. Karen, I didn’t mean to be anonymous and I wish to clarify that I did not mean that the alienator needs help before children – I meant that they need help before their children become alienated.. I have been in lengthy proceedings for most of my daughters 9 years on planet earth and sometimes as in my daughter’s case, the Judge gets it very wrong and fails to recognise those early warning bells of an alienating parent – this fact alone has lead to the alienator being allowed to continue to cause more and more harm. Cafcass also must take some of the blame since my daughter’s court appointed cafcass guardian added to the situation instead of helping. The results are like watching a car crash in slow motion where I am powerless to help buy child. I realise not everyone fits into the same pigeonhole and some of my previous comments may be wrong and for that I apologise. Everyone effected by alienation has their own story and telling it isn’t always productive other than as a catharsis to the writer.


      4. thank you for your explanation william and for coming out of your anonymous state of being, both are very important in my view though you do not have to share chapter and verse about who you are. The thing is that everyone believes that they know what parental alienation is and how it should be treated and in telling others about it they have a tendency to do exactly what is so problematic in this arena, they stereotype, rely on lazy sniping at other people and they don’t drill it down to the reality of what parental alienation really is. Which is why I took you to task. Alienation is a multi layered and deeply complex phenomenon on the one hand and on the other, when it is dealt with correctly it is incredibly simple to treat. But the myth that you can stop alienation by changing the law or making it illegal or making judges behave this way or that or getting everyone trained up is pretty much just that – a myth. Parental alienation is a problem with a human face and whilst ever there are parents with problems there will be parental alienation, it is really that simple. We can adjust the legislation and change the practice of experts and we can shift the dynamics this way or that but in reality that won’t prevent the people who alienate their children from alienating them. In fact, sadly, in my experience, once of the biggest risk factors for a child becoming alienated is when people agitate for 50/50 shared care or believe that if everyone had 50/50 shared care all would be well. It is a nonsense in my view and those kinds of arguments belong with the parental rights lobbies not in discussion about a mental health problem which is in my view urgent and essential to discuss in a reality based way. But thank you for coming back and owning it, something I really value. K


      5. Thank you Karen for taking the time to respond to me. I am aware that the term Parental Alienation wasn’t even acknowledged or recognised (especially within Family Courts) until relatively recently in the UK and I am aware of and extremely grateful to you and your associates for the hard work which you do to help children and parents who have been effected by parental alienation. My main point, and I see I didn’t make it that well, really was that early intervention by the family courts could really help many children before alienation becomes too entrenched. I agree that 50/50 isn’t always going to be the best solution, although sometimes that will provide a valuable message to the child as well as the alienator. Equally courts turning a blind eye to broken orders or refusing to enforce contact orders seems to send the wrong message to and encourages alienators. I realise that many Judges have become aware of alienation, it’s just frustrating that many also have not. Because of the unaccountability within the court system, once an error has been made, it is almost impossible to have it put right. When an elderly (close to retiring) judge makes orders which effect a young child and their childhood, who can that child then turn to within the judiciary for answers when they grow up? It is an imperfect world, but I see many areas where early prevention could perhaps be helpful in preventing some of the harm being done.


      6. I think when you have had a difficult time in court `William it becomes hard to believe that there are any good judges out there but believe me there are and without them many children would not be safe now. I agree that enforcement is important and that early action is too but the whole debate about parental alienation needs to be much wider than that because the pernicious nature of the problem and the long term impact on children is so problematic that boiling it down to structural arrangements gets us absolutely nowhere. I am working with parents who have more or less full time care of their children and their children are still alienated from them (caused b y lack of knowledge in family services about how to help alienated children) and parents who have more than 50 percent of the care but who still go on to lose their child to alienation. This is because alienation is a problem located in an unwell parent and the child becomes vulnerable to that parent’s behaviours and intrapsychic behaviours. Parental alienation is a mental health issue not a rights issue and it is not about conflict or difficult divorce though those things are often seen in alienation cases. Being witness to alienation is heartbreaking and causes people to become heart broken in deep states of mourning and it causes people to lose their lives. The impact on children is life changing and without help many children go on to suffer very serious mental health problems as well as relationship difficulties over their life time. I want to see it being discussed and debated in the manner in which it deserves as a topic, not passed off with a cup of tea and a chat around the kitchen table as if every person who ever had a bit of trouble with their kids after separation is suffering from it because they are not. However William, much of this stuff is not directed at you, someone else triggered this with their comments about how people can solve alienation themselves so please don’t let the flow of this be directed just at you, you don’t need to take it on the chin for others. `I think you have made some key comments which are useful and I thank you for them. K


  5. Karen thank you so much for your reply to Anonymous. I’m so glad you have spoken out in reply.

    You are spot on when you say: Parental alienation is the combination of the reaction in the child which is brought about by the actions in the alienating parent and sometimes, the reactions from the target parent. Your analysis about the alienating parent needing help before the children are affected is pretty off the mark too, often it is not possible to stop a child becoming alienated because it can happen in a split second, a moment, an incident, a trigger point and that is it, the child trips over into the coping mechanism and bang, that’s your chance to stop it gone.

    My husband took voluntary redundancy at 48 and had a crisis of ego/self. He then decided I was a threat to him since I always earned more than him and now was providing the money – he liked the money but not my perceived “status”. He was in fact a control freak and couldn’t stand the fact that he was no longer “above me”. This was purely in his mind. He then decided he didn’t like me much and preferred our 15 year old daughter who he began turning against me. She, by being young, attractive, popular and his daughter, not his wife, massaged his wounded ego and self esteem purely because she WAS his daughter and not his wife. She demanded nothing of him but loved him unconditionally. I dared to ask him for things and had expectations of what a husband and wife (and parents) should be. It was enough to start a downward slope where she was carried high on his shoulders and elevated far above me. He made her his best friend and confident. I knew if I ever dared leave him I would never see her again so I trod on eggshells with both of them for 19 years while he ramped it up and she followed in his wake.

    That is why I’m thanking you for speaking out Karen. And for not letting any more negative posts through.


  6. HI Willow. I like you get really tired of hearing the argument that it is only fathers who are alienated, it is just not true. I also get really fed up with hearing people attacking judges and others who are often the only people we can rely upon to bring about the shift in the dynamics that liberate the child. Finally I get really really fed up with the whole idea that parental alienation is something that can just be dealt with if we did a bit of this or that or everyone just got on better or got something done earlier. It is poppycock in my view and can only be embraced by those who know absolutely nothing about what it takes to liberate children from what is a pretty grim fate actually. Working with alienating parents is exhausting and successfully freeing children can take a lot of intense work whilst being under attack from all around in the court process. In serious alienation cases, even the legal teams get drawn into the dynamics and it takes a strong cool headed judge in my experience to hold things on track. These cases are not pleasant to work with and they are not something one does for the pleasure of it even when the children are released from the trap of alienation. I don’t want to see the issue dumbed down and made nice for everyone to have a cup of tea and a chat over, it is not nice either to experience it as a parent or child or to work with it as a practitioner. Apart from murder and non accidental injury, this stuff is the toughest stuff possible for practitioners and I want to see some respect for the subject not have it dismissed and prettified to suit the mood music. So we will not he having any opinions or commentary that feeds stereotypes and we will continue on here to discuss it how it is, serious child abuse and sustained harm to the parent/child relationship and the life chances of the next generation x


    1. Yes, thank you – I’ve been frustrated by the little stories posted on here by someone that seem to imply that if everyone plays nice together, alienation can be avoided. For a long time I felt guilty about what we could have done differently to prevent the final alienation (which happened as you said – in a split second, over an incident) and finally realized that there was nothing we could have done. This was always going to happen. And while I feel angry at how the court has made it all worse with their ignorance of this issue, in the end, it was still going to happen, even if orders were enforced, etc. My H could go back to court now and probably walk out with an order for therapy and visits to be resumed, but that wouldn’t change anything, either, the child would refuse or lie to the therapists and we’d be right back to square one. A whole systemic shift needs to occur and I think that will be a long time off. In the meantime, we just try to live a happy life and hope that will help the alienated child in the future. Your blogs are a big help in that.


  7. Tough but necessary comments here.
    I agree that many of the suggestions of what may improve outcomes are way off the mark and highlight the many misconceptions.
    As part of my journey as both witness to PA and psychotherapy practitioner, I have immersed myself in both women’s rights and fathers rights sides of social media and it is no wonder that there is a swirling mass of angry misinformation.
    And I agree, dumbing down helps nobody. But as a witness to PA, a powerless bystander seemingly silently shouting for help, there does need to be something easily accessible.
    Far too many practitioners, be it judges, lawyers, social workers, just don’t understand, not even when it’s explained to them. This is child abuse. Whether it is conscious or not, the child is being damaged.

    I am hopeful that if this new discussion can do something, it will can bring about accessible information to those that desperately need it but are not aware of it. Like you say, even professionals can get dragged into it, again I have witnessed social workers, support workers and even barristers who were previously close friends get drawn into the insidious dynamics and fall out for months. Projective identification indeed! I am also hopeful that this accessible information will be informed and not, as you fear, lead to generic family therapy.


  8. Yes. Yes. Yes. 100% agreed. This problem seems to come from mixing together mild, moderate, and severe.


  9. I still belleve in 50/50 shared care, but where there is a determined alienator at work it is not worth the paper it is written on. I would never have imagined that my grandchildren could be alienated from my son – he loves them dearly doesn’t he? He has always put them first, hasn’t he? So how could anyone alienated them. First one grandchild is alienated aged 15 nearly 18 moths ago, seemingly speedily with very little warning. But looking back, there was a rudeness, a truculence, over several weeks culminating in the inevitable row which severed the relationship totally. The youngest grandson now nearly 13 has stood firm throughout this for well over a year., but for how much longer. This afternoon following several texts and a phone call from his mother, he said he wanted to go back to his mothers, he wanted to play on his Playstation apparently, he told me that his dad was selfish for saying no, and that his dad was boring. He asked me to intervene and try to persuade his dad to return him back to his mother. He told me he would be coming as usual next week as he wasn’t ready to leave his dad just yet. He then become upset and said not to blame mum. I must have looked shocked as he put his arm around me and hugged me, he hugged his granddad, and he hugged his dad. He said dont talk about it any more and don’t ask me any questions. But he still wanted to go home. I know deep down that anything his mum told him he would accept as correct without question. My husband drove him home. He was OK during the journey, chatty almost, and my husband reassured him that our door was always open to both him and our eldest grandson.


  10. Hi Karen

    I really appreciate your work recovering Alienated children (I have two of them) however a much more important problem to the world is stopping Alienation. There needs to be education and beacons out there to alert people that have some role in preventing Alienation, the ‘Regimes’, the children’s peer groups and the children themselves to guard against it.

    I have been waiting for professionals 20 years to come up with educational programs and products to defend against this terrible social ill, it hasn’t happened so I have produced fridge magnets that need to go into every home:
    I really look forward to professionals that work with children such as Pyschologists, Counsellors, Teachers etc seeing the value in educational programs and products that get the message out there to empower everybody that has some ability to stop this terrible problem.

    Parental Alienation needs to be cut off at the source rather than feeding it with fertilser and watering it as we currently do.


  11. Cara I agree when you said : “Yes, thank you – I’ve been frustrated by the little stories posted on here by someone that seem to imply that if everyone plays nice together, alienation can be avoided”.

    They annoyed me so much that I stopped reading them.

    Karen, I wonder whether you come across any others such as myself where alienation begins (and escalates) within an intact and long lasting marriage.

    (Not sure how it’s possible to have degrees of alienation which are separate from each other – as possibly implied by anon- but don’t wish to get involved with analysing that post)

    Really appreciate your posts Karen and all your hard work.


  12. Nothing will change until legislation is enacted to end this psychological torture.
    PA and FA. (which ever psychological ploys are used) is a mental health problem upon which we at Amazing Grace recognise and working with Samaritans who deal with its fall out, fully understand.
    It will be the actions of Rehabilitating and Trained Health Visitors to help address this health issue with again appropriately trained family councillors working with families to enact fundamental change. As Munby stated about parents in 04/14, “need to be responsible to each other as much as to their children”. Loss of custody is the carrot…and as in Mexico, up to 15 years in incarcetated custody, the stick, will address this in 90% of cases.
    If as is now known by Warshak et al that children at preconcrete stage of development will need the greatest care and in this case will have to have particulary support in their rehabilitation and custody…fear of the torturer is the most important situation has to be treated, both the victim and sadly the criminal.
    The parent who becomes the harbinger of love for their child who if remarried or the like, the then new “mother” (in 91% of such cases) will have a VERY important role and this needs understanding in terms of therapeutic support…this is what some Samaritans are finding.
    Point of fact. Cornwall has one of the highest levels of suicide for under 40 yr old men nationwide…a reasonable proportion being due to PA/FA….hence one reason for the length of custodial sentences in Mexico. The information services at the Embassies of ltaly and Brazil will tell you of their own incarceration lengths for such torturing offenders.


    1. Honestly, I think the most dangerous time for full alienation seems to be the teenage years, when both child and alienating parent realize that the child can refuse contact and the court can do nothing. My stepson’s decline into alienation started when he was 9 and his parents separated (I came along later!). But he wasn’t fully alienated until he was 15. Before that there was regular visitation. There was all kinds of conflict between his parents, court visits, blocked vacations, intrusive phone calls from his mother, etc, but he came over regularly and was almost always happy and loving to his father in our home. Once it became clear he could refuse to come over with no consequence to anyone, he stopped coming over and then the hateful, alienated behavior began (always over text, never right to my H’s face).

      If someone could make him come over, I believe he would be happy to be here. We saw that last year when for some reason, his mother insisted he resume contact. But since no one does/can make him come over, it continues. When he was younger, he would comply if my husband insisted he come over, and the court was more able to help. Now, there’s nothing to be done and he’s truly stuck,


  13. I have to speak up as one person who was lucky enough to have a fantastic judge who understood the dynamic right from the start. He was incisive and cut through the nonsense. He knew what was happening, he took control cleverly and he made it absolutely crystal clear that if the case came back to court then he would be dealing with it and he would not be thinking in terms of contact but in terms of residence.

    The structure he created was a great help but it was not determinative. A skilled and knowledgable Cafcass worker was also able to bring about changes but it has meant learning and adapting as well.

    The bottom line is that there are judges, particularly in the lower courts, who think that every contact dispute is caused by two immature parents that refuse to sort things out like adults. There are also judges like the one i had.

    There are false allegations, but there are also true ones. There are children who give their own views and there are children that give someone else’s. There will be occasions when a child’s rejection of a parent is justifiable and there will be other times when it is not. There are good Cafcass workers and there are useless ones. Family law is about people and the human condition contains all these false dichotomies and countless permutations in between.

    If you do discover that your case is not parental alienation then go out and celebrate because then the solution is really in your hands and your kids have not been to hell let alone had to bear the burden of the return journey..


    1. thank you for this comment PStevie, this is exactly what we mean when we say that the mental health and legal interlock are essential in treating parental alienation. When the judge creates the structure and holds it firm, we can go in and do the work of reunification, the concept of the judge as superparent is one which `I have long talked and written about, it is core to the way in which the mental health intervention is made potent. and I absolutely agree that there are some amazing judges and cafcass officers and even amazing social workers and there are those who are not amazing – and legislation is not the only answer, it is only part of the answer, the other part of the answer are skilled practitioners who are unafraid to override the children’s refusal and rectify the power dynamic. When we do this as practitioners we face the negative transference from the alienating parent and we risk complaint and sanction if our governing body does not understand or accept the work we do – which is why we have a risk averse group of practitioners who preach ethics whilst doing little to change the dynamic in the family because they are too afraid of being complained about. Which is why we risk having the concept of PA watered down to fit their comfort zone instead of them being made to challenge their own and the ruling body comfort zones through education. I love your last paragraph because we say it to parents a lot – this is not parental alienation, go out and celebrate because there is something you can do and it lies in your own hands – instead of celebrating however, some go complaining about us because we haven’t made it easy for them by saying yes it is parental alienation – it makes me really angry on behalf of all people who really suffer parental alienation to have the term bandied around for every single instance when a child doesn’t see a parent, it demeans the reality and waters down the reality and means that other people start to think about it differently.


    2. I was struck by your comments Pstevie about contact disputes being caused by immature adults. My son messaged my grandson’s stepfather a month or so after the alienation began suggesting they spoke over the phone. It was not received well as stepfather replied he did not respond to demands for telephone calls. Some time later I text my ex dil to ask for a face to face meeting with her, myself, my son, and her husband to try and find a solution to what had happened and to identify what could have gone wrong. This meeting was flatly refused. Under normal circumstances if there was a genuine grievance surely a meeting would have been top priority for all concerned for the sake of the children despite any issues between the parents. I can only conclude there must be deeper issues.


      1. Hi Yvie
        As with everything else in family law there will be times when either or both parties do actually behave as the popular stereotypes would suggest. However, as your example shows, when there are alienating behaviours the courts ultimately provide the only means of addressing the imbalance of power that people sometimes use for promoting their own interests.
        The positive thing about the press coverage is that more people will recognise warning signs. Without the public education people are left to learn as they go along which provides time and space for alienating behaviours to get a foothold.
        The present system is constantly nudging people to sort out their disputes in ‘civilised’ and ‘reasonable’ ways. That’s fine and dandy if both parties are up for it. It’s a waste of valuable time effort and money if either party ignores the rule book.


  14. Spot on Karen. I fear that what we will see is that everything becomes parental alienation. Family therapy will work in some cases that are called alienation but where none is present. Its failure in the true alienation cases will be then put down to the inability of the alienated parent to do the work required. Then we are back to square one where there is no actual recognition of parental alienation.


  15. Thank you Karen. There are a few things I could add.

    The recent Resolution survey showed that 31% of children of separated parents in their sample wished their parents had not bad mouthed each other. The incidence of this alienating behaviour is very high and clearly includes a significant proportion of those ‘civilised and mature’ parents that do not need to use the courts. I hope that the recent press coverage helps to stop people doing it. It is abusive and harmful whether it develops into alienation or not. If attitudes change then at least some good will have come of increased media coverage. The down side is that the more pure alienators know about it the better they will get at it.

    Harman et al. did a population survey in which 9% of respondents indicated they had one or more children who had been alienated. Whilst this number probably benefits from the ‘bandwagon effect’ it is still high but in the same parish as some other estimates.

    There have been a few judgments lately where the court have iterated that parental responsibility also implicitly includes various ‘parental obligations’ needed to ensure children’s rights are fulfilled. If the couples involved were really conflicted, argumentative and vexatious then the advice might be appropriate. On the other hand if alienation was involved then this approach provides a neat means for the courts to simply blame the parents and abrogate all responsibility whilst leaving the children in the hands of an abuser. I hope it is closer to the former but it struck me that this is a way that watering down could be achieved whilst maintaining the focus upon conflict and avoiding making difficult / unpopular orders. It is also an excuse for lazy judges to back off before the alienating parent can confidently be labelled as implacable.

    In a recent reply to Fnf BPM (Cymru) Parental Alienation was defined by the Ministry of Justice as:

    ‘In cases where parents are separated, parental alienation refers to a situation in which one parent (usually the parent with whom the child lives) behaves in a way which creates anxiety in the child, so that it appears the child is opposed to living or spending time with the other parent.’

    I think this may indicate a direction of travel. It is definitely watered down and inaccurate.It does look suspiciously like a pound shop definition and something produced by Cafcass in order to fit in with their existing models which are centred upon conflict e.g. CAWAC.


    1. Agreed Padre – Alienators are manipulators, if they can manipulate their own children, manipulating a judge or a cafcass officer wouldn’t be at all unusual or surprising. Judges and Cafcass are slow to upset the status quo (often artificially created by the alienator with the help of judges) – this reassures, encourages and enables the alienator making them feel ever more vindicated!


  16. Re Padrestevie quote from Ministry of Justice I’m horrified. Karen is this true? Is the alienating parent always seen as the parent with residence? Isn’t it just as feasible for the non resident parent to be the alienating one? And excuse me if my next question seems a bit dumb…but how exactly does someone alienate a child? What is it that they do that affects the child so much?


  17. sadsam: ” And excuse me if my next question seems a bit dumb…but how exactly does someone alienate a child? What is it that they do that affects the child so much?” ………. I hope Karen can answer your last question in particular!

    Personally I could write a book on how it happened to me. It is however still mind boggling. I know how it came about within my intact marriage of 46 years. I know I didn’t see it coming at first and never saw it for what it really was until I left my husband and daughter 2 years ago and started looking for answers. The answers came very slowly and things that I thought were sheer madness began to make sense. . But I always knew I was being excluded and she was being elevated far above me by him. In my case it happened when she was 15 and ripe for the picking. My husband raced and we always went with him. The social life was amazing and by the time she was 15 it was heaven sent for her as a teenager. What more could any teenage girl want? If you look back at my posts on this site this might see how it happened to me.

    But for a very long time I questioned myself. Was it me? Was it my fault? Was it how they were both saying it was? Was it all in my head? Did I bring it all on myself? (as my husband insisted and often insisted in front of her) Had she turned on me “because she grew up and saw you for what you are” ? (as he constantly told me when I tried to make him understand how being totally excluded made me feel).

    But deep down I knew. It was him and it was his way of keeping me under control and punishing me for any slight or transgression he thought he saw. And I always knew that I could never even think of doing what he did and said let alone actually DO it or say it!


  18. Hi Willow.

    “But for a very long time I questioned myself. Was it me? Was it my fault? Was it how they were both saying it was? Was it all in my head? Did I bring it all on myself? ”

    ” But deep down I knew. It was him and his way of keeping me under control… ”

    I recognise your self doubt/ self questioning….. But then I long had a pattern of beating myself up over everything and anything…. Always willing to see myself as the one at fault etc…..perfect fodder for a ‘controller’ I guess. I have learnt to be more balanced in my honest self appraisals, and so like you I ‘know deep down’ I didn’t do what I was accused of, though I accept I made mistakes, more out of lack of knowledge/ Understanding than any wish to control etc…

    In the world of SWs and courts In order to definitely label one parent as the ‘alienator’ and one as the ‘ innocent alienated parent’ in the absence of verifiable evidence other than one person’s word against another, it becomes down to opinion and judgement. How often do they get it right/wrong? And who else /where else,and how, can a wrongly labbelled ‘alienator’ go to/ get redress for a life altering travesty of Justice? How can a parent fufil a basic role as their child’s protector when their hands have effectively been tied behind their backs? It seems the answer is nowhere……just hope that you live long enough to reach the stage when direct reunification with a now adult once alienated child may finally possibly, hopefully, tentatively begin. It is a life scenario no parent ever pictures for themselves, but one for which a growing number have to seek and develop strategies to live, no thrive, in spite of, for life is a precious gift to us all, not just the children. We were all children once.


  19. Hi Karen…a suggestion….. I notice that your site doesn’t seem to include a section which defines what PA is exactly……. Given the risk that as the use of the term becomes more popularised the true definition of what it is gets lost (as i feel has happened with the condition ‘depression’), I wonder if including this on your site (separate to discussions section) would have benefit….. I for one would appreciate, especially if it clarifies between problems caused for the children by conflict between separated parents and the behaviours this engenders, and true PA.


    1. thank you for your feedback Sadsam, I am finding the contribution you are making very useful in terms of my thinking because in my work in the courts I work with parents in your position and I am constantly trying to find ways of engaging more fully to harness the whole family healing dynamic which is so important in these situations. The key to the way in which you have arrived at your position is the lack of knowledge and skill amongst social workers, I was going to write a blog post called the trouble with social workers as a result of our conversations but stopped and thought about it. This is, as many will tell you on here, unusual for me because i have a shoot from the hip style of writing at times which resonates well with people who have been harmed by social workers and so it serves as a sort of revenge for those people who want to have their experience vocalised. But I thought further through this and realised that the trouble with social workers is that they are given absolute power without responsibility for following up on their decisions and so they develop a sort of messiah complex which is difficult to challenge through a polemic. Therefore I am going to write a more considered piece, in fact i am going to develop the paper I wrote for NAGALRO in 2014 and flesh out the themes that social workers need to think about in their approach to these situations, the core of which is the lack of understanding that children who use switching behaviours adapt their voice to each parent and wholly adapt their voice to the parent who reacts the strongest to them. I will begin this thinking now which is triggered by our conversations. I have met many parents in your position and I want to engage more effectively with them, I am grateful for your communications on here and between us. K


      1. “the core of which is the lack of understanding that children who use switching behaviours adapt their voice to each parent and wholly adapt their voice to the parent who reacts the strongest to them.”

        Karen I am glad our communication is useful to us both. The above point by you has hooked me and I look forward to your next piece. I am trying so hard to understand and if you can offer the explanations which no one else so far has been able to give me my gratitude would know no bounds.


  20. Reblogged this on LOST DAD and commented:
    Excellent post from Karen here on the current increasing acceptance of PAS. But also with a valid codicil that the battle has only just begun. Really worth reading.


  21. Think of how family violence used to be handled in the past. It was seen as a private personal matter best handled within the family. Sadly there were many deaths and these were just seen as unfortunate. Once the problem became much better understood this understanding became injected into murder investigations and Inquests. Once this started happening, the public were screaming at decision makers for action. They didn’t want decision makers to just shove the issue under the carpet and wait while a never ending series of academic studies were put on the shelves of libraries till the buildings were too big to handle them.

    I looked at a recent inquest into a case where an Alienating parent murdered 2 of her children in Australia and committed suicide. Not a mention of PA. Not a mention of what it was, or whether or not it applied, NOTHING.

    Until we can get PA at least mentioned in the analysis of these cases where an Alienator murders their children, progress will continue at a snails pace. As a movement we need to focus our efforts where we can achieve the greatest results. Talking about the sadness of Alienation is just not enough. We need AFFIRMATIVE ACTION.


  22. Reblogged this on Peace Not Pas and commented:
    Yet another well written and well-informedpost from Karen here on the current increasing awareness of Parental Alienation. But also highlights the problems that lay ahead in the continuing fight to not only get PA recognised but to effectively treat it.


  23. The advice below, while I am sure it is well meaning shows a complete lack of depth of understanding of the problem. The Alienated children are being pounded for a big chunk of every day when they are awake and not at school about negatives aspects of the Targeted Parent by the Alienator and a huge network of the Alienators supporters. Whether the TP sees the child for 4 hours a fortnight or 4 days a fortnight and acts as a nice decent parent this is no match for the negativity pounded into the child’s brain by the Alienator.

    The sad thing is that people going to professionals during a divorce expect to get professional advice that they can rely on. If I could ban professional people from giving useless advice like this that they obviously have no accredited training in I would, or at least give them a repremand from their professional body !

    ‘By being involved and staying in regular contact, the alienator, and better yet, the children, will see there is a flaw in the fact that you are the negative influence they believe you to be.’

    We need someone like Karen Woodall making sure that poorly informed professionals stop giving out useless advice like this.


  24. “Soon parental alienation will be something that everyone and anyone has experienced and a little bit of family therapy will soon put that right.”

    This statement is by Karen in her Post. Reading around her older posts I can across this one “It’s not always alienation (and why it’s important to understand that) dated April 19th 2014. Think it ties in with this newer Post in terms of the dangers of everyone thinking they know what PA is. I recommend it for a re-read.


  25. I am so glad I found your page Karen, I need urgent advice on PA that involves outside agencies I’m concerned about what is happening to my children.


  26. Hi Karen so glad I found your page, I can’t find any way to contact you via email etc wanted to ask your advice over my children and PA, that’s getting out of hand, as its now involving outside agencies. I feel like I am being well and truly stitched up.


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