What is Parental Alienation and what consequences could it have in a parenting dispute?
Managing a child’s relationships with its parents after separation is never an easy task. Parents are often faced with the challenge of having to deal with their own emotional difficulties arising from their separation as well as having to put such difficulties and parental conflict behind them so the children can maintain a healthy and meaningful relationship with the other parent.
In some cases the parents’ conflict or the parents’ own emotional difficulties are so great that they can result in one parent undermining the child’s relationship with the other parent to such an extent where the child ultimately rejects the other parent from his or her life. The child’s rejection of the one parent which stems from the negative and critical views held by the other parent about them is also known as parental alienation.
Parental alienation can take place in various ways. However common examples of parental alienation which often arise in parenting cases in the Family Courts are as follows:
- Where one parent holds an unsubstantiated belief that the child has been physically or sexually abused by the other parent and the child is led to believe that the other parent is dangerous.
- Where one parent feels anger and hatred towards the other parent and their negative views of the other parent influence the child’s perception of the other parent.
- A parent making unilateral decisions which interfere with the other parent’s relationship and communication with the child.
- A child rejecting a parent’s affection, gifts and authority due to the negative views the other parent holds of them as a result of being influenced by the other parent’s views.
- The child having an enmeshed or a close dependent relationship with one parent which is not conducive to the child’s mental health and overall emotional and social development.
The Family Courts recognise that parental alienation can have serious and emotionally damaging effects on the children’s psychological well-being. In such cases the Court can take appropriate measures to ensure the children are protected from the potential harm of one parent undermining the child’s relationships with the other parent. Two (2) recent cases handed down by the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia demonstrate that where the Court is satisfied that parental alienation has occurred, the Court can order a change of the child’s primary residence from one parent to another if it is in the child’s best interests to do so.
In the recent case of Goldman v Goldman  FamCACF 65 (12 April 2018) the Court changed the primary residence of two (2) children aged 13 and 11 respectively from their Mother to their Father as the Court formed the impression that the Mother was entirely focused on “punishing” the Father and “turning the children’s affections away from him”. Following separation, the children were living with the Mother. Up until the time of the hearing, the Father was spending time with the children on a limited basis and often under difficult circumstances.
The Court found that the Mother’s conduct caused emotional harm to the children and it represented an unacceptable risk of harm to the children if such harm continued. Orders were made for the children to live with their Father as well as for the children’s time with their Mother to be suspended for a period of four (4) weeks to enable the children to settle into their new environment. The Court also made orders for the Mother to spend time with the children under supervision for a period of twelve (12) months and hence it ordered that the children’s time with the Mother move into a regime of unsupervised time.
In the case of Lankester v Cribb  FamCACF 60 (6 April 2018) the Court ordered that the primary residence of a 9 year old child be changed from her Mother to her Father as a result of the Mother imprinting a belief in the child that she had been sexually abused by the Father notwithstanding that there was no medical evidence to support such belief. The child had primarily been living with her Mother since she was 6 months old.
It was also observed that every changeover became a highly stressful experience for the child. The Court heard evidence from a Family Consultant (who had interviewed the child and the parents) who expressed a concern that as a result of the above unsubstantiated allegations the child “will be exposed to continuing distress and confusion about her relationship with the Father whilst she lives with the Mother”.
During the proceedings, there was evidence that the Mother had questioned the child about sexual abuse frequently and on one occasion the Mother had made an audio recording of the child with the child’s complaints of alleged sexual abuse. Further the Mother continued to maintain a belief that the Father had sexually abused the child despite the fact that medical examinations of the child and an assessment undertaken by the Department revealed no evidence of sexual abuse.
In view of the above evidence, the Court determined that the child “needs to be protected from the continued likely escalation of that emotional manipulation and harm and the likely destruction of her relationship with her Father in the primary care of her Mother”.
Whilst the Court recognised that changing the child’s residence from one parent to another was likely to involve grief, loss, confusion and a high level of stress in the end these considerations were outweighed by the risk of the child remaining in an environment which was psychologically and emotionally damaging to her.
In addition the Court ordered that the Mother’s time with the child be suspended for a period of six (6) months. It also ordered that there be a staged reintroduction of supervised time between the child and the Mother and thereafter the child was to spend unsupervised time with the Mother. Although this was an extremely difficult case to determine, the Court found that the making of the above Orders were appropriate in order to “allow the child to build a relationship with the Father and to break the cycle of harm when she is with the Mother” and hopefully the making of the above orders will assist in the child ending up with a meaningful relationship with both parents. The Full Court upheld the orders for supervised time and the change of the primary care as the Mother posed a risk of harm to the child in the above circumstances.
The above decisions abundantly demonstrate that if a parent engages in conduct which causes the child to adopt the alienating parent’s negative perception of the other parent and as a result of such conduct the child’s relationship with the other parent is undermined, the Court is prepared to change completely the child’s living arrangements in order to protect the child from harm.
If you would like to discuss any concerns you may have with regards to parental alienation and the potential consequences that it may have in your particular circumstances, please contact our experienced Family Lawyer Anthi Balafas on (02)9299 4912 or by email on [email protected]
Disclaimer: The above does not constitute specialist family law advice. It is intended to be general information only.