Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a serious issue in family law systems worldwide. Parental alienation occurs when one parent undermines the relationship of another parent (the ‘target parent’) with a child in an attempt to persuade the child to exclude the target parent from their life. The result of this is that children are psychologically conditioned to view the target parent as a risk to them and therefore opt to spend less time with that parent. This is an issue that courts and policy makers take seriously both in Australia and internationally.

The issue of parental alienation is coming to a head in the United Kingdom. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is a government body that provides specialist advice to Family Law Courts about families. Similar to family consultants in Australia, Cafcass interview families and based on this, make recommendations as to the future care of children. Cafcass has seen an increase in the practice of parental alienation and have decided that, in appropriate cases where there is unjustified parental alienation, they will recommend that the child be removed from the parent and placed with the target parent.

While this may seem like an odd recommendation to make – placing children with a parent they often despise – the same decisions can be and sometimes are made in Australian courts.

The Australian has recently reported on a case that dealt with this issue. In Ralton & Ralton two children were removed from the care of their mother and placed in the care of their father. The mother had never caused any physical harm to the children and ensured that they were well looked after physically. The Full Court of the Family Court held, however, that the mother was causing psychological harm to the children by not allowing or facilitating them to see their father. In determining what is in the best interests of children, the court is to consider, among other things, the benefit of having a meaningful relationship with both parents. In this case, the mother was a risk to that benefit. She was given very limited visitation rights which would incrementally increase after six months.

The decision in Ralton & Ralton highlights the Family Court’s focus on the best interests of children. The father had not applied for the children to live with him full-time, yet the court made orders to that effect because the Court considered they were in the children’s best interests. Parents’ perceptions of what is best for their children may be coloured by their own relationship with another parent. It is important to always keep the children’s best interests at the forefront of parental decision making. The decisions both in the UK and Australia show a preparedness to ensure this occurs.

The Australian –
The Guardian –
Ralton & Ralton [2017] FamCAFC 182


The information posted on this blog represents our opinion and should not be taken as legal advice.