Children who align strongly with a parent after divorce or separation are doing so for a reason, that reason may be temporary, such as the shifting dynamics which erupt at the point of family change, or it may be more consistently present and escalating, often seen when a child is exposed to unhealthy behaviours from a parent who is psychologically fixated upon blame projection. Sometimes the parent to whom the child is strongly aligned has a personality profile of concern, sometimes the parent is binding the child into their own belief system about the other parent. In all circumstances, it is essential to discover why the child is strongly aligned and this can only be achieved through the use of psychological assessment by a Clinical Psychologist or Psychiatrist. The assessment is of the parent in relationship to the child and properly, the parent in the rejected position is also assessed in relation to the child to provide a global understanding of the issue.

Contrary to the lurid headlines, it is not my experience that children who are strongly aligned to a parent and rejecting of the other, are routinely picked up and placed with parents who are found to be abusive. This depiction of the removal of children in such cases, comes, in my opinion, straight out of the imaginations of those who seek to hide the harm which is caused to children by a parent who is enmeshed with a child. It is a mirror of the way in which harmful parents cannot see their child’s needs as separate from their own and is part of a well organised parental rights campaign.

We no longer live in the last century however and many contemporary families, seek an egalitarian approach to post separation care and provision for their children. Therefore, when children display the behaviours of alignment and rejection, it is a signal that something is happening to the child which on closer scrutiny, may demonstrate that harm is being caused. These days, knowledge of how that affects children, triggers interventions to bring change.

Such interventions do not come quickly however. Often, the assessment of the family comes after years of efforts to shift the dynamics which cause the alignment. In such cases, it is the alignment which is problematic and not the rejection of a parent and the markers of that are in the child’s behaviour. Children who reject parents because they are abusive to them (or to the other parent), will do so in a manner which demonstrates ambivalence – ie – the child will not wholly reject the parent and will not display contempt when doing so. Children who reject parents because of the behaviours of the parent to whom they are aligned, will show a distinct pattern of behaviours which include contempt, omnipotence (believing they have the right to tell parents and professionals what to do) and splitting of parents into idealised/demonised experiences. Children who are coached, manipulated or coerced into alignment, also show a high level of anxiety in the care of the aligned parent and heightened and exaggerated fear of the parent who is in the rejected position. This is because they are trying to manage a family system which is out of control. The system is out of control because it is being controlled by the parent who is influencing the children.

There is still a way to go however, before uniform understanding of the serious harm which is caused to children when they are induced to use psychological splitting as a defence is recognised. The past three years have seen an organised campaign to distort understanding of this problem for children of divorce, with ‘protective’ mothers groups targeting fathers who wish to see their children as being abusive and enmeshing mothers as ‘protective.’ This binary split, which mirrors the thinking of those who campaign in this space, positions the issue of children’s alignment and rejection as being either a dispute about contact or a weapon in a war against mothers. It is neither of those things, it is a serious and complex issue, in which the harm of children is hidden inside what appears on the outside to be a dispute about adult relationships with children.

Children who align and reject after divorce or separation, or in any other family format for that matter, in the absence of harmful behaviours by the parent in the rejected position, are displaying the signs of regression to primitive defences of denial, splitting and projection. When this is seen, it is only the surface signal that something is wrong because underneath the child’s outward display are the attachment maladaptations which are made as a way of coping with a range of parenting practices which are harmful to children.

Treating the Problem

The Family Separation Clinic, works with the relational dynamics around the child, the behaviours in parent and how these bind the child into this alignment being our key interest. In our experience, there are a wide range of behaviours which are seen in parents who trigger this defence in children and a wide range of reactive behaviours from unaware and often terrified parents in the rejected position, which tighten the double bind the child is in. Extracting the child from this position is tricky unless there is strong judicial management of the control behaviours which lie at the foundation of this problem. This dynamic is about power over the child which is held by a parent who is using behavioural strategies to bind the child into alignment. Anyone who does this work, must do it cautiously within a strong judicial framework, in order to avoid the destruction of interventions by a parent driven by pathological rage/hatred/determination to maintain control.

Structural therapy is about shifting the underlying dynamics in the family system and in this respect the Court’s capacity to shift the power balance between parents is the starting point for any intervention. When the Court holds the power, preventing a parent from continuing the pattern of behaviours which have caused the problem, therapeutic intervention which is focused upon freeing the child from the pathological alignment with an abusive parent is the goal. Whilst the negative transferential chatter on the internet is always focused upon the child’s rejection, the real focus of therapeutic work is about the liberation of the child from the inter-psychic enmeshment in the relationship with the aligned parent. As such, the transfer of a child to live in kinship care with the parent in the rejected position, is about placing the child with a loving parent who is found to have the capacity to provide healthy care. This is about child protection and removal of a child, which is always the decision of the Court, is about ensuring that a child is protected from the longer term harms which are seen in situations where children have been prevented from receiving the help that they need.

Treating this problem requires understanding and committment to giving children the voice which belongs to their true self, not the false self which arises because of primitive defences which are caused by adults who are out of psychological and emotional control. Children who are aligned with a parent and rejecting of the other are, in my clinical experience, brutalised by the experience of being enmeshed, forced to reject a parent and left to cope with their experience alone. The silencing of this experience, which has gone on for five decades now, is in my view unforgiveable and those who seek to once again render these children invisible by fusing their wellbeing with the rights of a parent are, in my clinical experience, causing serious harm by trying to hide it.

The reiteration of the position of the Family Court in relation to this issue is welcome, as are new levels of transparency which open up the Courts to scrutiny. In my view, the lurid headlines and chatter which surrounds the issue of children’s alignment and rejection of parents will quieten down significantly when the reality of what lies beneath the harm which is done to children who align and reject is properly seen and understood.

For now, it is the responsibility of all who understand what lies beneath a child’s alignment and rejection after divorce and separation, to say what we see and keep saying it. For if we are silenced, there will be no-one left to speak for children whose plight, has been unseen and unrecognised for far too long.

Family Separation Clinic News

The Family Separation Clinic delivers structural interventions to families where children have been found to align and reject due to the behaviours of a parent. Structural interventions include a Clinical Trial, in which the alignment between harming parent and child is observed and monitored over time. During the trial, the child is re-introduced to the parent in the rejected position in a process which is protected from the aligned parent’s capacity to cause further harm or undermine the therapeutic work. In some cases, this produces a positive re-introduction, in others it is necessary for the Court to determine whether the aligned parent’s behaviour is causing harm which meets the welfare threshold. In such circumstances, the Clinic now only works in cases of residence transfer in situations where the case is in public law, meaning that it is the responsibility of social workers to undertaken removal, in the same way they would if the child was being physically or sexually abused. This is because the underlying emotional and psychological harms which are being caused to children, are no less serious than any other form of abuse. When social workers understand this, intervention to create the necessary conditions for freeing a child from that abuse are possible.I

Instructing the Family Separation Clinic

FSC can deliver Clinical Trials in cases where there are judgments of emotional and psychological harm due to the behaviours of a parent, a Clinical Trial involves a team working around the family for a period of 12-26 weeks.

FSC currently, however, only accepts instructions in the High Court of England and Wales, Republic of Ireland and Hong Kong. Regrettably We cannot accept any instructions in the lower courts in any jurisdication, this is due to the need for the strongest judicial control of treatment of cases post judgment.

Holding up a Healthy Mirror – Therapeutic Parenting Training for Parents in the Rejected Position

The final live delivery of this course begins on March 14th at 8am-10am to enable Australia and New Zealand parents to join us. Currently we now have only three places left on this course which is incredibly popular and which delivers intensive learning and skills building over four weeks.

Working with the principle that children who align and reject are suffering from underlying attachment maladaptations which cause harm over the longer term without the right support, this is a stepwise course which enables you to

understand what is happening to your child

stabilise and anchor your own experience in relation to that,

operationalise a therapeutic parenting approach and

build skills to use over time to help your child.

Cost £180 over four weeks (4 x 2 hour sessions).


March 14th, 21st, 28th and April 4th


8am- 10am UK time (please note there is a time change between weeks 2 and 3 of 1 hour due to BST).


Learning and Listening Circles

March 7 – 19:00 -21:00 GMT

Introduction to Therapeutic Parenting Skills

This is an introductory session for parents who are new to therapeutic parenting. Using basic skills as a starter, we will explore how understanding the self as a therapeutic parent, changes the way that you signal your position to your child. Whilst this is an introductory session, all parents are encouraged to join this circle to build up shared momentum for knowledge and skills amongst rejected parents. This develops the capacity of the rejected parent community to assist other parents who are new to this experience.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

March 21 – 19:00-21:00

Helping the Parentified Child

Parentification is one of the key problems facing children who are manipulated in divorce and separation, it is a covert manipulation which can be difficult to spot, precisely because, as Dr Steve Miller always pointed out, it looks like a close and loving relationship.

There is no need to be helpless in the face of the parentified child however and, because the relational networks in the brain are constantly open to change, learning how to help the parentified child is a powerful tool to have at the ready for any parent who has been forced into the rejected position.

This circle will focus upon understanding how parentified children behave and how to operationalise strategies to help them.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.

April 4 – 19:00-21:00

What is really happening when a child rejects a parent outright

The evidence is clear that a child who rejects a parent outright after divorce and separation, is not doing so because that parent is abusive. Instead, it is the parent to whom the child is aligned who is causing harm and it is the alignment we should be looking at because it is this which is abusive to the child. It is abusive because, even though it looks like love, it is a fear based response which is underpinned by the biological imperative to survive. In the framework of latent vulnerability, what we are seeing when a child aligns in this way, is a child who is already vulnerable in the parental relationship, succumbing to underlying disorganised attachments. This circle will explore the reality of what happens when a child rejects a parent and will focus on how therapeutic parenting can assist the child to recover.

Cost £40 – Family and friends can attend for the cost of one place.



Anyone who has completed Holding up a Healthy Mirror can join the Higher Level Development Group which will run weekly from Mid May 2023 through to Christmas 2023 (with breaks for holiday periods).

This group will be focused upon developing the skills of therapeutic parenting for children of divorce and separation to a level which will enable you to assist others.

The purpose of running this higher level development group is to ensure that the skills set which are helpful for children with attachment maladaptations due to trauma in divorce and separation, are made widely available. Those working in the development group will have early access to the new resources currently being developed, including the new handbook of Therapeutic Parenting for Children of Divorce and Separation which is almost complete.

Weekly attendance will cost £30 per person and can be paid weekly, monthly or in three monthly packages which attract a lower fee. We are aiming to keep these costs as low as possible to enable as many parents who wish to join to do so.

This course is the updated version of Higher Level Understanding so if you have already put your name down for that you do not need to do so again. If you have completed Holding up a Healthy Mirror and you would like to join the group in May, please email me at to do so.

Please Note

If you are a therapist who would like to join this development group to add therapeutic parenting skills to your work with families affected by divorce and separation you may do so without completing HUAHM, this is because you already possess the stabilising and anchoring skills which are necessary to deliver therapeutic parenting effectively. If you are a therapist, you will be asked to acknowledge that at the start of the group so that dynamics between participants are transparent. Working in this way will enable mutual learning and reciprocity between parents and therapists on the basis that the co-therapy model of work with families experiencing children’s maladaptations is based upon mutuality and respect for the expertise possessed by parents in the rejected position.