Parental alienation: what it is and how it’s different from implacable hostility

New podcast covers the complicated and sometimes controversial topic of parental alienation

Photo: fotolia/Андрей Яланский

This article comprises of excerpts taken from a new podcast on Community Care Inform about parental alienation. The full podcast includes discussion of the research base behind parental alienation and signs that alienation might be taking place, and is free to access on soundcloud and iTunes. Inform subscribers can access supporting resources including a written transcription and key points from the episode on Inform Children and Inform Adults.

The experts

Sarah Parsons: Principal social worker and assistant director at Cafcass, the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in England.

Julie Doughty: Lecturer in law at Cardiff University. Julie (with Nina Maxwell and Thomas Slater) conducted a review of research and case law on parental alienation for Cafcass Cymru in 2018.

What is parental alienation?

Sarah Parsons

“This is a controversial subject and there is no one definitive position adopted across the literature… The position that we adopt in Cafcass is where a child is rejecting or resisting a parent in a post-separation context, and that resistance or rejection is disproportionate or unjustified in relation to their actual experience of that parent.”

Julie Doughty

“For our purposes we used a definition of ‘an unwarranted rejection and negativity by the child towards one parent, and an alignment with the other parent’. The original terminology was known as ‘parental alienation syndrome’ and that’s been controversial and we’ve moved away from discussion about whether or not it’s a syndrome, fortunately. But the original idea, then, was that it was rather focused on one parent alienating the child and the other parent. Whereas I agree now with Sarah’s definition that it’s much more useful to look at the concept from the point of view of the child who’s resisting or rejecting a relationship.”

Is implacable hostility the same thing as parental alienation?

Julie Doughty

“It was originally a term that was used in the very significant case of Re L in 2000, where the experts there – the child psychiatrists and the judges – said they preferred to use the term ‘implacable hostility’ for these very high-conflict cases where either one or both parents can’t see contact in a positive light at all. But it was a very wide definition. So we would say that it doesn’t totally equate with parental alienation.”

Sarah Parsons

“I think one of the things that we would want to add to that is that ‘implacable hostility’ is an adult-centred term. It’s about the relationship between the adults. What we want to do all the time as children’s social workers is to think of the impact of that behaviour on the child, that the implacable hostilities between two parents doesn’t really convey the same sense of meaning as alienation, which intrinsically involves the child aligning with one parent or the other and rejecting one parent. So it’s a term used but it is distinctly different from parental alienation.”

More from Community Care

3 Responses to Parental alienation: what it is and how it’s different from implacable hostility

  1. sw111 September 5, 2018 at 11:43 pm #

    A very useful article discussing the complexities of factors relating to contact issues with the non resident parent, balancing the rights, views and feelings of the children who have formed their views about contact or maintaining no contact with the non resident parent and how the court has to factor in the implacable hostilities between the separated parents and rights to family life.
    This article gives useful insight about contact issues and defining the concept from child’s perspective, ie rejecting or resisting relationship with one parent, that is unwarranted, bases the understanding from the centrality of the child.
    I had used the term parental alienation and that in my view had more adult/parental focus.
    The podcast, case law and research of review provide in-depth knowledge about the complicated factors and this article points to the issues workers and court need to be mindful to promote the child’s welfare.

  2. Nick Child September 7, 2018 at 8:37 pm #

    Thanks for this. I just want to say how remarkable and delightfully ‘ordinary’ it is to have professionals talking knowledgeably and openly about this topic as if it was no more controversial than gardening. And that you are professionals in the cross fire – social worker (from carcass) and a lawyer – when there’s a lot of freelance experts (like me!) who are free to declare views with little need for the kind of professional accountability you will be subject to if not accountable to. Thanks

  3. Steve Barker September 10, 2018 at 10:36 am #

    Thank you for a very informative and positive podcast.

    I am not a social worker, but I am a concerned parent who – like many others – has become alienated by their child. Having followed various internet groups on the matter I can see how a many of us jump onto the ‘Parental Alienation’ bandwagon so easily.

    For many of us parents, this term has become something of a life-raft when we are all at sea on this. When we feel aggrieved we seek simple proofs and from this discussion it is evident that this subject is far from black and white and has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

    There is a groundswell of public opinion that CAFCASS should ‘recognise Parental Alienation’ more than it appears to, but I now better understand that P.A. is only ine possible scenario and that ALL options have to be considered.

    Listening to this sincere and balanced conversation from the perspective of those who have to unravel these matters has been very helpful to me and I am now far more positive about working with you good people instead of regarding you as the enemy.