Mainstream Portrayal of Parental Alienation and the Turning of the Tide

News of reunifications comes in thick and fast this week with some of the UK’s high profile campaigners being reunited with their loved ones.  As the UK family court system begins to look somewhat frayed around the edges in the face of the lived experience of the children involved (not to mention their rejected love ones), parental alienation as a popularly recognised phenomenon in divorce, is showcased on mainstream UK TV.  It seems whichever way we look right now, the prevention of children’s relationship with families after divorce and separation, is rising to the surface of public consciousness.  Coming next, (you heard it here first folks) will be the wide-scale scrutiny of the failures of the family courts to understand why children enter an alienation reaction in the first place.  I firmly believe that this hidden child abuse scandal, the responsibility for which, in my view, lies in the hands of those who have dismissed parental alienation as a reality for far too long, is starting now to unravel.  In the hands of the children who have been so badly let down by the family courts, change will, without doubt now come.  I hope and pray I can live and work long enough to finally see the reality of what I have long known to be systemic abuse of children, exposed.

The Split, currently showing on BBC One, is a largely frothy drama which has a needle sharp thread of reality running all the way through it.  Last night, as the three sisters at the heart of the drama, discovered that their mother had intercepted thirty years worth of letters and presents from their father after their divorce, we were able to watch what I have been witness to many times over in the past decades or more of my working life.  The dawning, sickening, realisation that the life that has been lived has been constructed by a parent hell bent on revenge and control.  The grief of knowing that the love that was been portrayed as deficient and/or absent, had been there all of the time.  The pain was well portrayed by lead sister Nicola Walker (pictured).  What comes next, if it is as true to life as last night’s final scene reveal was, will be the roller coaster of confusion, anger, hatred and bewilderment that children feel when they are reunited in such circumstances with a parent they have been coerced to reject.

If parental alienation is showing on mainstream TV, it is not going to be long before the issue is widely discussed and debated. The tide is most definitely turning and now is the time for those of us who know this work to speak and to demand and yes, to point the finger.  For it is not only the sour faced parent hell bent on revenge who is to blame for these generational tragedies, it is the government, the services it funds and the manner in which it has been bullied into believing a one sided narrative about family separation for over four decades which is equally responsible.

In the UK, for well over four decades now, a political ideology called women’s rights, has dominated the post separation landscape and prevented the reality of why children reject a parent after separation from being understood and known about.  Children do not choose to lose a loved parent after separation, they are forced to do so, either coercively by controlling behaviours from one parent or from the abject failure of the services which are supposed to support families, to recognise the problem and properly intervene.  So much of what has been done wrong in this landscape has been upon the basis that the reality for children of divorce and separation has been ignored in favour of supporting their mothers (and to a far lesser extent, their fathers).  The government, weak in will and dependent upon the echo chamber of the charities it financially supports, has simply caved in to the bullies who demand that women’s needs come before those of children and fathers.  In this environment, no child wins the right to a freedom of mind and the outcome has been generations of children becoming trauma bonded to one parent and rejecting the other.

Being bullied is no excuse however.   Now is the time for our failure to protect children of divorce and separation to be put right.  I firmly believe that the children who are now emerging from the harm that has befallen them at the hands of the family justice system and its surrounding services, will demand it on behalf of those coming after.

Because when these children start to ask why, ( their protestations of not wanting to see daddy or mummy were not questioned further but accepted and taken as face value), the curtain will be pulled back and we will see the ugly reality.   An ugly reality which is  that we, as a society, have routinely and consciously, prioritised the needs of the mothers of children in divorce and separation. And that the ‘unintended consequences’ of this system and slavish adherence to this code of practice of prioritising the rights of women, has also been the routine exclusion of some mothers from the lives of their children (on the basis that they were being rejected by their children and must therefore be very very bad indeed and therefore unworthy of support).

It is no accident that there is now a generation of children emerging from the psychologically split state of mind and seeking the parent they were forced to choose to lose.  The coercive control of children by a parent, can only last as long as the child is controllable.  When the children come to the place where they are able to recognise the sentence uttered by Nicola Walker in the closing scene of last night’s episode of The Split  ‘he left you, he didn’t leave us‘, the control of the child’s mind and experience begins to slip away and the critical thinking skills, long suppressed by the control behaviours, begin to emerge again.  Alongside that, the warmth and power of the attachment bonds, (the reality of which many professionals still dismiss as being not present in children who reject parents) bring the children back strongly into relationship with the rejected parent.

And here in lies the truth of the failure of the family courts and the services which surround it.  CAFCASS, Social Work, Family Relationship Services, all of whom have, for far too long, either dismissed the reality that children can be forced into choosing to lose a parent OR, have burdened children with that ‘choice’ in their slavish adherence to the ‘voice of the child’ doctrine.  (As an aside, whoever originally dreamed up the idea that children are the people we should rely upon to tell us what they think should happen during and after their parents divorce or separation, is in my view culpable for the damage done to generations of children).  As I have repeatedly said, asking a child to decide upon relational arrangements between their parents after separation is like breaking their legs and then asking them which shoes they would like to wear. It is cruel, it is an abdication of societal as well as parental responsibility and it is a supreme failure to protect children when they are at their most vulnerable in life.

This must change.  This will change.  This is changing.  Mainstream TV is telling the story of parental alienation and even CAFCASS appear to have recognised the problem (perhaps someone saw the way the wind is blowing) and whilst social workers are still so mired in the voice of the child many are only able to contemplate reunification programmes  if the alienated child signs their consent to see a rejected parent in triplicate (and preferably their own blood), that tide will change too.  It has to, because when the children who said with great vehemence that they would not see a parent, begin to tell the story of why they were forced to say that, a widespread recognition of how abusive it is to a child in a vulnerable and impossible position to place such weight of choice upon their shoulders, will grow.

And those who participated in this widespread abuse of children will be recognised for their failure to protect.  And those who looked the other way and argued that it was a ‘he said/she said’ situation, will be recognised for their lack of interest and lazy practice and those of us who were ridiculed, attacked, shamed and blamed for speaking up about the reality of what a child faces in the post separation landscape, will finally be heard.

It is the children who suffered this scandalous abuse and theft of their right to an unconscious childhood who will bring the failures of our family justice system into the full glare of public consciousness.

The children whose rights and needs have been, for too long, seen as indivisible from the rights of their mothers.

A women’s rights approach which has captured almost as many mothers  in its tortuous net as it is has fathers.  A one sided, lop sided, narrow minded dependence on a political ideology which has no place in the life of the family and no place whatsoever in the state response to the breakdown of the family.

When parents bind their children into revenge against their other parent they need psychological intervention not political ideology to support them.

Children’s lives matter, except in the landscape of divorce and separation when they are still routinely and systemically abused.

But with the return of children who have been so badly let down by our family courts, a new possibility for significant change  emerges.

Those of us who know, stand ready to assist.




  1. I agree, after 13 years we have a situation. My grandchild, was only allowed my visits after pressure from him, he became unwell. I was not allowed legal action to make my position stronger. Cross Border Funding, is difficult to achieve it appears. I needed £10, 000 to start any legal representation.
    I don’t agree it’s only mothers, I continue to highlight the case of Beth Alexander in Vienna. The twins from her marriage are only allowed visits from their mother. She remained in Vienna, divorced and in my opinion, controlled.
    Control, is the name of this game. The problems with this type of behaviour is what happens when things don’t move forward? They remain the same, unhealthy, restricted without growth and a burden, to the child/children.
    I was one of the grandparents pushing for change, my problems are international, but Karen like you, I knew changes have to be both international, and within our court system. Many children do come under the system within the UK, many children have court orders with one parent coming from the UK.
    This all sounds like we have one foot in the court room, and one foot out of it. We become legal statistics, having to prove we love and care.
    Until mediation becomes an even better tool, years and years are wasted. Years and years of emotional games and pain to the children, and those who are forced by the controlling element, to dance to their tune.


  2. Thank you ! And i agree that the children should become first always !
    I have spoken of for y niece And because of that i have bin shamed And blamed ! But i told her that i Will keep fighting for her as long And hard as iT takes ! I refuse to give up on her And iT Made me cry to see the future as you believe iT because thats were were going !! I Will meet her again ! X annemiek


    1. I again say Powerful!!! But where I live in Orange County, California it’s been going on more than 18 years for me. They allowed a father &paternal grandmother say so many lies&didn’t care about my daughter or my relationship. It’s been 7 years since I have even said hello or hugged her. Nobody cares. Judges, attorney’s, myself begging to tell the truth. The Judge telling me to take my child to trial and I was in total despilief.Its all about who has the most money or can higher a dishonest lawyer it honestly makes me sick.. They don’t care about the pain we all go through on an everyday basis.


  3. Powerful article; I could hear trumpets and drums proclaiming the long overdue battle cry between your words…

    The awakening is at hand…I’ve waited , watched, yearned for, suffering in silence for this moment for over four decades.

    You, Karen Woodall-
    and Dr. William Bernet, Dr. Amy Baker, many others who will all be remembered and named –
    gave me a voice , a direction, a shield and a course.
    My weapon of choice?
    The truth…I will bear my soul to expose the dark underside of Parental Alienation Abuse and Abduction to shed light on the trauma and everlasting pain it creates.

    Alienation is like a shapeshifter- assuming many different forms within a family subset. It is the rape of the mind of a child; the tactics used are similar to those used against prisoners of war. The interrogation, isolation and rejection – not only of the targeted parent, but of the child who clings to the scraps of memories of the loved parent; it is the interruption and dissection of childhood.

    There is this constant feeling of not belonging, lack of trust, and the inability to truly feel loved that haunts the alien child.

    No more; it is rotten enough that children lose parents due to war, unforeseen and unfortunate accidents , illness and death –
    But the Psychological Maltreatment of Parental Alienation Abuse is an unnecessary, insidious form of long term torture.

    And it will be stopped…I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel; and when I get to the end, I will (along with the many others who have been alienated, discarded, deceived and
    betrayed) find my truth, my purpose and my identity restored.

    A million thanks to all who tirelessly battle on behalf of the voiceless children and their battered loved ones …see you in June!

    Warmest Regards,


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, we were told to make the best of what was available. Things, like one foot in the door, don’t rock the boat.
    It is emotional abuse and bullying. Control and controlling. The years have gone by, the high cost both emotional and financial. The tears we have all cried.
    I would say to Beth, I hope sincerely your situation is solved, your twins and extended family have peace.

    I can’t undo what my grandchild has put up with, I can’t make it better, but I would say, I have never given up or given in. I do wish I could repair the relationship with your papa. It hurts me to stand by, and be powerless. I love you, as I love all my grandchildren you never did deserve this.

    Now, I can say and write what I truly feel.


  5. Another great article and reflections of how feminism has been hijacked from a great cause to a twisted ideology. You clearly and rightly state that parental alienation is child abuse, would you also agree that it’s a form of domestic abuse in terms of its controlling and coercive behaviour? My understanding is that so called feminists and the system that supports them conveniently won’t recognise this link.


    1. gs7. It’s not only women, it’s men also doing it. My comments highlight a case in Vienna. Her ex husband did much to make his ex wife look unfit. In a foreign court system it’s been known they favour their communities.

      Mine is a woman, but it is very complex when dealing with international law.


  6. I don’t watch much TV, but as a result of this I watched the first episode, and part of the second, today.
    Amazed to hear ‘parental alienation’ be so quickly and easy referenced (albeit glibly and not as we understand PA to be, in the context of the situation in the scene).
    Appreciate this is spoiler alert – but a few telling comments/observations:
    – from the boss of the law firm – admonishing his partner for not billing enough hours in court (encouraging her to aggressively litigate to drive the hours in court up, and of course exacerbate the situation)
    – seeing how the partner punished the father she was acing against for her own father’s perceived failings, rather than being impartial for the sake of the child – (although that was turned around positively for the father, in her final comments re how he might advance his case and life)
    And some beautiful acting from Nicola Walker – when she first sees her father a trace of an innocent child-like smile flashes over her face before the hurt/anger washes it away.

    Karen – are you planning to use this series to promote knowledge and understanding of PA and the realities for children in any way?, although I appreciate the series is only part-way through at the moment and we don’t know the outcome.

    I look forward to watching the rest. If I could I’d get my step-son to watch it, but I don’t think he’s emotionally mature enough yet for it to resonate.


    1. If I could get permission to show the third episode in trainings I would, it is a really accurate portrayal, I may get in touch with the BBC to discuss it CG.


  7. I quite agree with your article times need to change and fast. I am a grandparent of an ailienated father whom the family court and Cafcas let him down badly. He went for support to carry on seeing his son when for no reason what so ever he was given no rights at all to see his 12 year old son . He had been a good father in all respects supported, the mother gave up his house, looked after the child diligently when allowed to see him . Then the child decided he did not want to see his father and can’t believe he was not given access to his son only to keep sending him text messages and cards or letters. However, we were given access to see him but the only contact we have is through the mother and yes we are now being told he does not want to see us too. I can’t begin to describe the feeling of utter dispare and rejection myself husband and son are going through. This alienation needs to be stoped now and nipped in the bud at the divorce proceedings also supported through the child’s life because it is shameful abuse.


    1. As I said, it’s a bad habit. Difficult to break. The problem is no emotional bond. I’m sorry for your son, as you see it is far from unusual. Until things change and the first year, is when this should happen.
      The problem is blame, we do need blame free divorce.
      Ours is the same, as a grandmother, I watched and was powerless. We need to keep pushing for change, these comments help. Let Karen make this a subject, as they organise more meetings and get more people involved.


  8. Would like to know how the system would feel if it were their own children. It’s very clear all over the internet that they are giving custody to the abusers in 80% of the cases. It’s so clear it’s absurd.
    In my case it’s the father doing the allienating. There is a strong correlation between domestic violence, borderline personality disorders and parental alienation. It’s all obviously about control and power. It fits together like a puzzle. There is an easy answer to break the cycle. Hold abusers accountable and stop blaming the victims. Maybe the court system wouldn’t be so backed up with lawyers streaching out the process and ignoring abusers clear tactics. They should treat each case as if it were their own children. Listen to the victims and look at their proof. Make better programs for the abusers to get the needed help to make change not only for their children’s lives but for the future of society as a whole.
    We are smarter than this. There is a better way. When will it change?
    I have learned so much through this process I believe change is very possible with the right statergies in place. Giving custody to abusers is certainly not going to help anyone.


    1. I think what you are describing Deborah is the way in which the feminist model of analysis of post separation family life has failed mothers as well as fathers. Too many mothers who are being abused end up losing their children because of the fixed mind of the feminist trained practitioner who believes that listening to children is best practice and that mothers whose children say they don’t want to see them must be very very bad people. Couple that with a charming abusive father and the feminist practitioner, trained to believe that all abusive men are angry wife batterers (instead of charming manipulators) and you have a perfect storm. It is about control and power and control and power look very different depending on who is doing the controlling and domination of space and it is about psychological analysis not political ideology when we start to properly deal with this issue.


  9. It is the fault of a flawed system. Blame, belongs to both female and male abusers. It’s not purely a female or male issue. One person writes, they don’t get on with their mother in law. Then the comments start, how grandparents should not have any rights to see their grandchildren.
    The logic gets lost.
    We are writing about anger and bitterness in a broken relationship, not the needs of a child.
    It needs to be separated, that’s how the failure comes into being.


  10. “Couple that with a charming abusive father and the feminist practitioner, trained to believe that all abusive men are angry wife batterers (instead of charming manipulators) and you have a perfect storm. It is about control and power and control and power look very different depending on who is doing the controlling and domination of space and it is about psychological analysis….”

    And again I ask, why oh why, are psychological scenarios being handled by non psychotherapy trained and practising professionals?……..I’m referring to social workers and Cafcass of course…….they come in with their subjective viewpoints, projecting who knows what from their own personal backgrounds………when will this society of ours take the responsibility for scenarios of a psychological nature OUT of the hands of these people?…….they are simply NOT qualified to investigate and analyse such family situations….

    And yes, I know, that even if these cases ARE handled from the start by psychological practitioners only, that scenario too has its problems……but at least it would be a step in the right direction to put PA cases in the realm of mental health…….. I still feel sick about the people in my case who spoke of things beyond the scope of their professional training (and watched them be charmed by a carefully crafted persona)…..and more sickenly were listened to……. I hope the kids who as adults come out of their mental traps DO indeed hold said professionals to account for their arrogance and failures…….. freedom only comes when our minds are truly our own.


  11. sadsam. Yes, most of us know how you feel. After 13 years, my grandchild only had met me, his paternal grandmother. My grandchild unwell and crying for me, he made that change.
    That was several years ago. Still the same, but older!
    If we all did this with driving, not paying a tv licence, you would soon on the wrong side of the law.
    It hardly bears reason, does it sadsam?
    With the present situation on grandparents rights, I stood behind it, because the situation is far from where it’s acceptable. Unless, you make a lot of noise no one listens to one voice.


  12. The ITV drama “Innocent”, whilst not in any way directly portraying the consequences of divorce leading to PA, does however show that some family members will stop at nothing amidst a mountain of lies to gain ownership of children to serve their own personal needs, way above the needs of the child or the alienated parent. The warped sense of reality generated by their skewed perspective gives the children no choice but to accept the “monster” narrative given to them by the alienating parent no matter what the truth is. Yes it’s TV, yes it is highly dramatic and over the top, but any alienated parent will flinch when an Aunt refers directly to the real father that his kids are not in fact his any more, but “my children”. The presumption of innocence is always lost and the desire to own the child on the pretext of “protecting” the child is one we alienated parents face every day.


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