Parental alienation is an issue that many Australian families face. A 2016 study suggests that parental alienation affects approximately 19% of children whose parents are going through a separation.[1] It is important to understand the relevant laws that oversee parental alienation, as well as the various options for intervention and resolution.

In this article I will be exploring the following aspects of parental alienation:

  1. The signs of parental alienation
  2. Who parental alienation applies to
  3. The causes and result of parental alienation between families
  4. The Australian laws that govern parental alienation
  5. The Court’s response to parental alienation
  6. What your legal options are if your child does not want to spend time with you
  7. How we can help you if you are being unfairly alienated from your child

What is parental alienation?

Alienation occurs when a child’s natural affection for a parent is destroyed through manipulation and psychological pressure from the alienating parent. This can result in estrangement from the targeted parent and family, and psychological abuse, confusion, and sadness for the child.

What are the signs of parental alienation?

Signs you have been alienated from your children include:

  1. The child expressing extreme negativity or hatred towards the one parent suddenly, instead of gradually over time
  2. The child stops wanting to spend time with one parent for no apparent reason
  3. The child acts distant and uninterested when spending time with one parent
  4. The child begins repeating lies or negative comments said by the alienating parent about the other parent
  5. The child appears to be fearful, anxious, or angry around the one parent
  6. The alienating parent speaking negatively about the other parent in front of their child

Who parental alienation applies to

Parental alienation applies to a parent and their children who have been unfairly denied access to one another by another parent.

The cause and result of parental alienation in families

Parental alienation exists in a variety of forms and can be the result of several factors including:

  1. Unresolved conflict between parents
  2. Family and societal pressures
  3. Mental health issues
  4. Alcohol and substance abuse
  5. Domestic violence
  6. Infidelity
  7. Poverty

Parental alienation can create toxic and stressful environments in the relationships between families, parents, and their children. Parental alienation can result in children being psychologically manipulated and can have long-term and damaging psychological effects on children and create deep conflict within families.

The laws that govern parental alienation in Australia

Understanding the relevant Australian laws is important to ensure the best outcome for any children involved and to protect the rights of both parents and children.

There have been cases before the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the Court”) where parental alienation has been strongly discouraged.

How the Court determines whether a parent has been alienated from their children

Alienation from a parent contradicts one of the fundamental principles of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), that children have the right to have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents. This, right, of course, is in the absence of significant risk concerns to a children’s safety and wellbeing.

The Court will require evidence of parental alienation before it determines whether alienation has occurred or is occurring.

Such evidence can include:

  1. Family reports Ordered by the Court – this can include statements and views of the children and Independent Children’s Lawyer (if applicable)
  2. Reports from the children’s treating medical practitioner
  3. Reports from the children’s school

The Court’s response when a parent has been found to have been alienated from their children

If the Court deems that parental alienation is occurring, it may take action to prevent any further risk of psychological harm to the children. Such action can include:

  1. A change in care arrangements for the children. Providing the alienated parent additional time to spend with the children or in some situations, full care of the children
  2. Providing the alienated parent with specified time to have electronic communication with the children
  3. Ordering the parents and children to attend family counselling
  4. Ordering parents to undertake parenting courses
  5. Injunctions and restraints on parents being put in place from denigrating one another in the presence or hearing of the children

An example of a Court outcome involving parental alienation in Australia?

In the case of Ralton and Ralton [2016] FCCA 1832 Orders were made by the Court to completely reverse the parental responsibility and care arrangements of the children.

These Orders were made due to the risk of the children suffering ongoing psychological harm caused by the mother’s continuing attempts to alienate the children from their father. The mother appealed this decision in 2016 and the Full Court dismissed the appeal. This meant that the children remained living with the father where they were not at risk of psychological harm.

If your children don’t want to spend time with you

Unfortunately, due to alienation, your children may become hesitant to spend time with you.

Depending on the children’s age, the Court may order you to begin spending supervised time with your children. This time may be supervised by an accredited supervision facility or a close family member. This time then may progress to become unsupervised, more frequent and for a lengthier time to allow your relationship with your children to grow and become stable.

Get legal advice on parental alienation in Australia

If you are being alienated from your children, we recommend that you seek legal advice that is specific to your situation. It is likely that you may be required to undertake processes such as negotiations, mediation, or commence legal proceedings.

We can help

Although this can be a stressful and lengthy process, we are here to help you. As trusted family lawyers servicing Newcastle, Maitland, Sydney, and the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, we will provide you with guidance during this difficult and emotional time in your life.

Contact us today if you have been unfairly alienated from your children..

[1] Harman, Leder-Elder, Biringen (2016) Prevalence of parental alienation drawn from a representative poll

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