Alienation of children in divorce and separation: An undeniable suffering around the world

On March 26 2009, I wrote my first blog. It was Mother’s Day and I wrote for alienated mothers around the world and my understanding of their hidden suffering. Since then, I have written thousands of words about the undeniable pain experienced by families affected by alienation of children. The wordpress stats which were presented to me yesterday on the twelfth anniversary of my first blog post, tell the story of that anguish. unique visits per month between 2009 and 2021

This blog began as a diary of the work I was doing with families affected by children’s outright rejection after divorce and separation. This work was inspired by meeting Thomas Moore who writes about his experience of alienation in book Please Let Me See My Son. My work with Thomas led me into working with other alienated children and families in the family courts in England. Since that time, I have worked in the family courts in the UK and around the world helping children who are being harmed by induced psychological splitting to recover an integrated state of mind via their relationship with the parent they have split off and rejected.

When I began doing this work, the words parental alienation were not readily admissable in the court process. The phrase ‘intractable hostility’ was used instead to describe the parent who would not or could not allow a child to have a relationship with the other parent. Whilst parental alienation became a more readily used phrase in the court process, it is not used in our assessment and differentiation work and it is not used in treatment because it is simply not necessary. Trends in language come and go but the overall reality that some parents cause their children harm by inducing psychological splitting as a defence, remains. This is well established in case law and it is now well recognised by the High Courts in England and Wales.

These days, I only work in cases of induced psychological splitting in children after fact finding. This means that when I begin work with a family, the facts of a case have been heard and judged. This is a necessary condition for rapid treatment of children suffering from induced psychological splitting because it means that there can be no continuing argument about the facts of a case. Using contracts requiring behavioural change and structured contact trials, the re-introduction of a loved parent, assists the integration of the split state of mind. Rolling scrutiny of behaviours ensures that compliance with the Court’s rulings on the best interest of the child is achieved.

In 2009, I was pretty much a lone voice in this area of work and I was ridiculed in some arenas for writing about the work that I do and the underlying dynamics which allowed alienation of children to become so normalised over many decades. Having understood how the construction of social policy in the years after the divorce laws changed in the UK, had been with an intent to transfer power and control over children to mothers after family separation, my work with the Oxfam UK Poverty Programme, led me to further understand why there was such a focus on fathers. The idea that the family did not need fathers was prevelant in the nineties, led by Anna Coote, Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, which meant that by the time I began this work with families in 2009, this was a routine assumption and conclusion in the family courts.

Through the years this blog has been a place where I have charted by journey of understanding of how children become alienated and why that hidden harm must be recognised. In doing so I have encountered angry people who do not like what I write, as well as the warmest of welcomes from those whose experience I am articulating. There have been some days when I think I will never pick up my bloggers pen again, because the aggro isn’t worth it and others when I know that until this hidden harm is fully understood around the world, I will not stop.

And each time I swing between frustration and despair to the deepest sense of satisfaction when I see the recovery of alienated children, I come back to this blog. I read the comments and the emails that are sent and I look at these statistics and I know that what I started in 2009, will not stop now. I look at the work that I am doing with senior clinical colleagues around the world, the evaluation of the work of the Clinic which is underway and the increasing development of treatment routes for families and I know there is no going back to how things were when I began this blog.

The hidden harm to children in divorce and separation and the appalling suffering of families around the world is exposed by the statistics produced by wordpress yesterday. From a readership of 14 people to a regular readership of over 20K each month, the experience of alienated children and their families is charted here.

To those whose experience I am articulating, those who want to find out more and yes, even those of you reading this who loathe what I do (the very fact that you come here means that what I write has meaning), thank you for listening.

11 thoughts on “Alienation of children in divorce and separation: An undeniable suffering around the world

  1. I have been reading your blog with keen interest since 2010 due to the resonance at the time and the experience of the intractable hostility which I faced. It is to your great credit that your work is now read by thousands and it shows that there is a wider audience who encounter these difficulties within the dynamics of the family and I implore you to continue as it is this work which drives change. After 10 years, my case has finally had findings of implacable hostility. It seems this in itself demonstrates the progress which has been made within the family justice system to identify the issues which they failed to do previously and support the children affected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Martin – when you say after 10 years your case had findings of implacable hostility, does this mean it took court that long to recognise this?
      Or did proceedings commence at a later date?


  2. The consistent hard work that Karen Woodall has done is worthy of the highest humanitarian award ‘The Nobel Peace Prize’. I have hope; like many others and after many decades of working and contributing to children’s rights and wellbeing that every blog counts . I also know that many court processes may of failed to instigate a ‘findings of fact’ hearing. By being better informed and educated the family law reforms are our children’s best hope; alongside endless campaigns as innocent children are at the heart of everything we do. This holistic and person-centred approach impacts all stakeholders in order to change social norms, lengthy legal processes and make everyone aware of what parental alienation is . Thank you to Karen and all concerned, for already making the ‘world a better place’ for generations of now and in the future of this silent second pandemic of ‘Parental Alienation’ .!


  3. And thank you for writing, Karen. Please keep on blogging! I have been reading this blog since 2013 and it has been a lifeline for me. Or a lighthouse, as on the masthead, sending out beams to guide alienated parents and children. It makes me think of the story ‘Marianne Dreams’ by Catherine Storr. I have learned from you to be a lighthouse sending out beams of light and love to my daughter, who I know receives them and will be guided by them to safety.


  4. I have started reading Karen’s blog posts recently. I am a father that has full care of a 4y/o and been through 3 and a 1/2 years of proceedings, including a finding of fact where significant findings were made against the mother. A child arrangements order has been in place to live with me since 2018. Upon reading Thomas Moore’s book, my story is quite similar, if not worse as far as the frequency of allegations and level of abuse is concerned. The issue I will forever have it seems is that my ex partner is not accepting court findings and is constantly making further false allegations to professionals, just as she did before a fact find. It seems to be a baseline behaviour. I can’t see it ever ending. How am I to come to terms with this as a norm? We are still in family court so despite the volume of proven abuse and false allegations
    it’s not a criminal court. The court has made serious findings but they will never be accepted by the mother.


    1. The problem for the parents who cannot accept fact finding is that they are likely suffering from a disorder such as narcissism or unstable personality disorder or histrionic personality disorder. These PD’s require long term therapy for resolution and very few parents who have them, are aware that they see the world differently to other people. The reality of the fact finding is that for you and the outside world, it is a clear boundary. For the parent who cannot see the outside world, that boundary is non existent. In encapsulated delusions, the person suffering really does believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong and so continues to behave as they always have. Only now she doesn’t have control over the children, the court has acted to ensure that the children are safe by removing her control – just as it would in other cases of harm. And so now it is for you to hold the boundary. You have been given the power and responsibility and so you must now ensure that the boundary is held. When we are working with families in this situation we advise seeking permission to have the judgment in your case released to schools, GP’s, social service departments and any area you think she may complain to. This is how you hold the first line of the boundary. The second line of the boundary is to help the children to understand why they are now in your care, this is done sensitively, by explaining that the Judge understood that their mother sees things differently to other people and that the Judge feels that they should not be inflluenced in that way. We do this via a series of family meetings. This is how children who are removed into foster care in public law cases, are assisted to understand why they cannot live with a parent anymore. The third line of the boundary is to manage the children’s contact with their mother carefully. If they show splitting and rejecting behaviours after contact, you have to monitor this and before it becomes very difficult to manage you ask the court to resrict the contact to a manageable level. If you have a professional skilled in alienation recovery working with you, they should help you do all of those things. In my experience, it takes around a year to reach a stable point for children in recovery and following the steps of treatment, you should find a settled way of life in the latter part of that year. However this always depends upon you being able to manage the boundaries, she is unlikely to ever change, the Court has given you the power now to manage the boundary and so you must take charge and do so. This is not counter alienation as many ‘protective’ mothers groups claim. This is child protection work. Alienation of children is serious harm to a child, your role is now protector of their long term welfare. K


  5. Thank you Karen, for sharing your wisdom and experience and caring for our children.
    Thanks to this blog I have managed to reunite with my twin boys 7 years ago, when there were no professionals in Israel in this field of expertise. Thanks to this blog I have decided to become a therapist and help parents like me. Thanks to knowing you in person and thanks to the inspiration you made on me, I am sharing my knowledge today in Hebrew on my blog.
    Keep up this fabulous work and worm hugs from sunny Israel


    1. How lovely to hear from you Inbal and how wonderful to hear you are going to be a therapist. I am hoping to see you next year in Israel when the Conference will be held there. Hoping you are all safe and sound. K


  6. I have started reading your blog recently while searching some information on parental alienation. My husband has a daughter he hasn’t been able to see more than 4 years now. There were many court proceedings, false accusations made by ex-wife and lots of time and money wasted. Despite the court order giving visitations rights, having summer holidays etc nothing has happened and there is almost no way to force overprotective mother to obey the court order. Nor my husband or his parents – grandparents to the child have any contact with the child as she’s been completely cut off by her mother from anyone from her past. It’s an international case – my husband’s daughter lives with her mother in Portugal, the system though seeing the problem and understanding father’s rights is unable to be effective in any way and it seems as mother is always more protected in the southern countries. The situation is extremely sad for my husband and his parents as there is nowhere to be seen any possible help in this madness. I am myself divorced and have children from my previous marriage and firstly I couldn’t believe a loving mother is able to do so much harm to her child, now nothing surprises me any more. I surely have become your reader.


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