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By Melissa Gire, Associate Solicitor

There is no fixed or single definition of parental alienation. Cafcass, the Government body tasked with assisting the Courts in children proceedings, uses the term ‘alienating behaviours’ which they describe as: “Behaviours where one parent or carer expresses an ongoing pattern of negative attitudes and communication about the other parent or carer that have the potential or intention to undermine or even destroy the child’s relationship with their other parent or carer.”

Typically, alienating behaviours include:

  • Negative comments about the other parent.
  • Encouraging disrespect or defiance towards the other parent.
  • Isolating, exploiting, corrupting or denying emotional responses to create a belief that the other parent is dangerous or untrustworthy.
  • Being unable to separate their child’s needs from their own.
  • Manipulating a child into unquestioning loyalty for one parent, to the detriment of the other.
  • Blaming the other parent for their own feelings of loss.

In the recent case of Re C (‘parental alienation’: instruction of expert) [2023] the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, provided some guidance on the question as to who can and should act as a court-appointed expert where parental alienation is alleged.

Sir Andrew McFarlane considered the concept of parental alienation and noted that the decision about whether a parent has alienated a child is a question of fact for the court to resolve and not a diagnosis that can or should be offered by a psychologist.  

He further stated that parental alienation is not a syndrome to be diagnosed, but a process of manipulation of children perpetrated by one parent against the other through alienating behaviours.  The label ‘parental alienation’ and the suggestion that there may be a diagnosable syndrome are generally unhelpful.  

The President also took the opportunity to provide guidance on the use of experts in family proceedings. He noted that there is no definition of ‘expert’ for the purposes of family proceedings, and no definition of ‘psychologist’ beyond seven specific titles (such as clinical psychologist) which have statutory protection.

He considered it a matter for the psychological profession and, ultimately, Parliament, as to whether a tighter regime should be imposed.  The President also indicated that he will invite the Family Justice Council to investigate this issue and consider issuing further guidance.

The identification of alienating behaviour should be the Court’s focus and what is important is the particular behaviour that is found to have taken place and the impact that behaviour may have had on the relationship of the child with their parent.

If you would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact Melissa Gire on email: or Gemma Gillespie on email: or tel: 01892 515022.

This blog is not intended as legal advice that can be relied upon and CooperBurnett LLP does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of its contents.

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October 31, 2023
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