Today Nick is in Bucharest in Romania speaking at  the interdisciplinary approach of litigation with minor in cases of Parental Alienation Conference with leading Romanian Judiciary. This conference is held in a country where the issue of parental alienation has become well recognised and where approaches to deal with it are enshrined in legislation.

The child’s right to have a personal relationship with the parent with whom the child does not live is undeniable and cannot be limited but in exceptional circumstances, provided by law, circumstances that are likely to endanger the physical or psychological integrity of the child. Pursuant to Article 19 par. (2) of Law No. 272/2004 the court may restrict the parent’s relationship with thechild in the case when this is in the best interests of the child. Moreover, with a view to continuing or maintaining the child’s relationship with the parent and achieving the visit program, the court may establish, when necessary, a series of ensuring measures or warranties (fine in the situation when bringing the child is delayed – Article 20 par. (2) a) of Law No. 272/2004, lodging a real or personal guarantee by the parent who is to take the child – Article 20 par. (2) a) of Law No. 272/2004 or leaving the passport or identity document – Article 20 par. (2) a) of Law No.272/2004).

From all these legal provisions can be concluded that the personal connection of a parent with his/her child may be restricted only if, objectively, that parent’s behavior or actions are a danger to the emotional balance or physical safety of the child. Hence it follows that denigrating the parent who does not live with the child by the other parent is abusive. The simple fact that the parent living with the child has an antipathy (more or less justified personally) to the other parent and does not want the minor’s relationship with the alienated parent to be close, not only that this is not a reason for restricting the relationship, but it is even an emotional abuse. A proper emotional development of a child requires affective bond with both parents, and placing the child in a position to refuse to meet with a parent for the sake of the other parent causes most often, inner conflicts and damaging effects in the child’s soul, leading to depression, suicidal ideas, low self-esteem, behavioral disturbances, etc.

Assistant professor Andreea Elena MATIC1Assistant professor Ştefania Cristina MIRICĂ2


All across Europe right now there is a movement towards greater understanding of parental alienation and how to treat it. With the World Health Organisation’s inclusion of parental alienation as an index term for parent-child relationship problems in the ICD-11, the fog around of the issue of a child suffering induced psychological splitting as a defence in the post separation landscape is clearing.

When we are able to discuss the reality of what parental alienation does to a child, the need to intervene becomes clear.  For many years, the emphasis in parental alienation has been upon whether one parent is deliberately causing a child to reject the other parent or whether the other parent has contributed in some way. This continuation of the he said/she said battle which occurs naturally in family separation, has been inflamed by the continued politically motivated arguments about Gardner which have at their heart a determined campaign of denigration designed to destroy anyone who gets close to the truth of what parental alienation actually is.

Parental alienation is the induced psychological splitting defence in a child which causes them to align with one parent in a pathological fusion which renders them captive to that parent’s intra-psychic conflicts. The by-product of this fusion is the rejection of the other parent. (Karen and Nick Woodall 2019)

Stripping away the political arguments which fog our understanding, the reality of what we are dealing with when we are working with alienated children is the induced psychologically split state of mind in the child. Finding out how that was induced is part of the differentiation journey, treating the split state of mind is about intervention.

In this model of understanding, the rejection of a parent is a by-product of the problem the child faces, it is the signal that tells us that something is wrong in the family system.  When we understand parental alienation from this perspective, not only does the problem become clear, the need to intervene is also clarified. A child who is in a fused pathological alignment with a parent is a child who is not being given the parental care they have a right to expect.  Not only is the child pathologically fused and thereby susceptible to all of the intra-psychic conflicts of that parent (intra-psychic meaning internalised and conflicts meaning unresolved psychological issues), they are forced into a position where they must refuse the healthy parenting available to them from the rejected parent.

In all of the work that I have done over the years to dig up the reality of how parental alienation happens to children I have been aware that psychological splitting (the division of experiences into good/bad with no shades of ambivalence in between), is a driving force.  I had not realised until recently just how much of a driving force it actually is and how the cause of the splitting in the child is amplified by the cultural and situational environment in which the family lives.  As we have come ever closer to the lived experience of children with induced psychological splitting and we develop understanding of how one split leads to other splits, it becomes ever clearer that the fogging of the issue as a contact dispute and the loud fighting from the anti-pa campaigners hides the truth.  

Children with induced psychological splitting are defending a psychologically unwell parent, in a maladaptive relational dynamic in which their right to a healthy childhood is being erased.   

This is why parental alienation is child abuse.  This is why the fogging has gone on for so long.  Children’s rights to a healthy childhood have been erased by five decades or more of focus upon the problem of parental alienation as a dispute about ‘contact’, when in fact the problem is that children who reject a parent are using induced psychological splitting as a defence. And that defence causes all of the symptoms curated by Gardner and the symptoms used by Childress in his model and that defence is induced by pressure upon the child from somewhere in the family system.

I used to think that the splitting of parents into good parent/bad parent was the defining feature of parental alienation, as we dig deeper we come to understand that this is merely a projection of the child’s own split self in which the bad part of the child is split off and denied and an omnipotent self is elevated to control of the family system. This narcissistic split, which is infantile in nature, is the cause of all of the child’s symptoms of alienation and is what we must treat if we are going to help the child to integrate the projected splitting onto the parents.  When that split is treated, the projection onto the parents is withdrawn and the child is able to allow the incoming love of the parent they have been rejecting, thereby allowing the protective ameliorating influence which loosens the pathologically fused state of mind in the child.

How much easier would it be if when a child raises the red flag of induced psychological splitting after family separation, we automatically began the process of assessment and differentiation, just as we would if a child had symptoms of being on the autism spectrum?

Instead we find ourselves spending weeks, months, years sometimes trying to establish what has happened and who is the cause of it and as specialists in this field we spend our time having to fight off incoming attacks on our reputation and campaigns of denigration.

Who would do this work when it is so challenging and often detrimental to our wellbeing, our career and reputation?

The answer to that question is that those who understand the fogging which has obscured the reality of the abuse of children of divorce and separation,  cannot and will not stop until the fog is cleared. Because our awareness of the harm done to children who suffer induced psychological splitting, will not let us stop.

In Romania they are far ahead of us in the UK and there is much to learn from our colleagues there.  The work of Simona Vlădică Ph.D who has driven much of the change seen in Romania and who organised the conference this week is powerful and we are extremely proud of her achievements and grateful to work with her in Europe.

In Croatia, where FSC is presenting a public lecture with our colleagues from the Child Protection Centre in Zagreb in the coming weeks, there are continued strong challenges to this knowledge base. The fog is clearing here too but there is still much work to be done with our colleagues led by Prof. Dr. Gordana Buljan Flander a powerful advocate for change in Europe with whom we are delighted to work.

Working together with colleagues who understand, we are stronger and our health and wellbeing is protected by our mutual care and determination to make life different for abused children of divorce and separation throughout Europe.

EAPAP News: The EAPAP Board meets in Switzerland in August to continue the work of developing training and standards of intervention which follow from the Conference in London last year.  Statements on practice standards in this field will be produced as part of this meeting and I will update with news here in due course.

EAPAP Board Members can be found here

The EAPAP statement on use of therapy in cases of parental alienation can be found here