Publications - Family law

Parental Alienation

The alienation of a child from a parent most often occurs in high conflict disputes regarding the parenting arrangements for their children.

It occurs when the relationship between a parent and a child is broken through the behaviours of the “aligned” parents. 

Common behaviours and organising beliefs of the aligned parent includes[1]:

  • Extremely negative views of the rejected parent freely, angrily and repeatedly expressed to the child by the aligned parent;
  • Innuendos of sexual or child abuse or that the parent is dangerous in other ways;
  • A belief that their child does not need the other parent in their lives;
  • A belief that the rejected parent is dangerous to the child in some ways, either violent, physically or sexually abusive, or neglectful, thus justifying behaviour aimed at blocking time with the child;
  • A belief of the aligned parent that the rejected parent does not and has never loved or cared about the child;

Rejected parent’s behaviour which contributed to child alienation include[2]:

  • Passivity and withdrawal in the face of high conflict;
  • Counter-rejection of the alienated child;
  • Harsh and rigid parenting style;
  • Rejected parent is self-centred and immature;
  • Rejected parent has critical and demanding traits;
  • Diminished empathy for the aligned child.

Here are some tips to help combat parental alienation[3]:

1. Don’t become an alienator.

This is the most important tip. When you’re experiencing parental alienation, you will have a natural tendency to act defensively and always explain yourself to the children. Worse, you may want to counter the negative behaviour and talk about what horrible things your ex has done. This is alienation, too. Don’t fall into the trap by following your natural desire to defend yourself against false accusations.

2. “I love you” always.

When you do spend time with your children, regardless of the method, tell them that you love and care for them and that they are often in your thoughts and heart. Let them know they are special to you.

3. Positive language, always.

This is often overlooked but it is very important to avoid the use of negative language. It’s simple and it’s subtle; sometimes we call it “think like the child.”  Examples of using positive language include:

Instead of “I miss you…” which can put the child in a position to feel guilt or upset, use “I look forward to the next time I see you!” This is more upbeat and positive.

Instead of “I wish I could have seen that…” which conveys a lost opportunity or a regret, use “Wow, that’s great to hear and must have been very exciting!” as this conveys excitement, support, and positive reinforcement regarding whatever experience is the topic of conversation.

 4. Never stop contact efforts.

Even if you know that your cards, letters, gifts, emails, voice-mails etc are being intercepted or are otherwise never delivered – don’t give up trying.  Keep a diary or journal of your efforts to contact your children as well as writing to your children as if they were going to read it – SOME DAY. This will prove helpful both for you and, hopefully, your children if they have the opportunity to find out the truth at some time in the future.

5. Control yourself.

Manage your emotions. It is vital that you follow your court orders and agreements and avoid giving your high-conflict ex-partner any reason to vilify you to the children more than they already have.

6. Avoid blaming the children.

Try to remember that the children are also victims in this mess. Although difficult, it is often that when parental alienation is occurring, your children may spy on you, talk about every move you make, every purchase you do, report on who you talk to or spend time with. This might be part of the alienator’s strategy, and you could become frustrated at the children and blame them for fuelling the ex partner’s behaviour. Don’t let this happen.

7. Be yourself.

Act as you always have and do, in the children’s best interests.  This will ensure that as much as possible, the children will not see you as you are being portrayed by your ex-partner. Don’t overdo this though – there is no need to be “extra special” to counter your ex’s false allegations. Just be your usual loving, caring, nurturing self. Always remember that your actions will forever speak louder than you ex-partner’s words, particularly as your children mature.

8. Keep your plans, always.

If you have made special plans or arrangements with your children do not change your plans just because you fear your ex-partner will not permit the children to spend time with you as previously arranged or ordered. If you are late or fail to show one time, it may be twisted by your ex-partner into “proof” of your lack of caring for the children and give them the power to further alienate the children from you.

9. Build the relationship with memorable moments.

We do not mean becoming the “Disney Land Parent” however, a nice vacation, having a catch with the ball, sharing a professional sporting event, or for younger children reading a book together, movie watching etc can be special moments you can share with your children and help build a strong relationship and bond between you and your children.

10. Create the best team of professionals you can afford.

Legal professionals, mental health professionals, therapists, articles, scholarly studies with solid data are all invaluable tools to assist you with combating parental alienation. Be sure that whatever professional you use is knowledgeable and experienced with parental alienation and can advocate for the appropriate changes that will benefit your family.

For more information in the meantime, contact Richard Callaghan from our Family Law Team on 07 4911 0500 or visit

[1] Calvert & Calvert [2008] FMCAfam 101.
[2] Ibid.


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