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Parental alienation: an update

By May 15, 2017No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

Recent stories from the UK and the US media show that there is still much debate on the subject of parental alienation around the world. While some countries, such as Mexico and Brazil, have gone as far as to criminalise the parental behaviours designed to estrange a child from the other parent, in other countries it is increasingly common for courts to order the ‘nuclear option’ in severe cases–ie, reversing a child’s residence.

In the UK, The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) which works with families during custody disputes, recently stated its position that parental alienation equates to child abuse and says that deliberate alienation “accounts for the majority of the most intractable family disputes: perhaps as much as 80 per cent” (source:

And a UK judge recently ordered transferring a child’s residence from the mother to the father, describing the child’s distress and emotional disturbance as being a direct result of the mother’s efforts to have the child align with her, and saying:

“If I leave her in her mother’s care with no contact (with the father) she will continue to suffer harm. She knows her mother’s story is not right and the outcomes of parental alienation identified by [the psychologist] will come to pass.” (source:

In the US, court-ordered parental ‘reunification programs’ are a controversial option in parental alienation cases. This May 11 article in the respected Washington Post is a little surprising given its apparent inability to distinguish between the discredited late psychiatrist Richard Gardner’s “Parental Alienation Syndrome” and “parental alienation” as two distinct concepts:

We have previously described the debate over the terms in our blog here: Essentially, Parental Alienation Syndrome was conceived to describe a psychological condition in a child, whereas parental alienation refers to the effect on a child-parent relationship caused by various manipulative behaviours used by one parent.

While Gardner’s syndrome has not been accepted as a valid psychological condition in a child, it’s interesting that the most recent version of the psychological profession’s diagnostic manual, the DSM5, has added a new term CAPRD – “child affected by parental relationship distress”. As an article in The Conversation explains,

CAPRD includes parental alienating behaviors such as badmouthing a parent to a child. And several of the manual’s authors have clarified CAPRD to include an entire range of parental alienating behaviors and outcomes.


In Australia the family courts are always at pains to insist that parents with primary care ensure the other parent is allowed and encouraged to have a meaningful relationship with the kids, which is in the best interests of the child.  There are exceptions in instances of abuse, and courts have occasionally completely terminated a child’s relationship with an abusive parent.

While our judges shy away from using the controversial term “parental alienation”, they instead use wording like “caused the child to align with”, “cause emotional harm by emotionally manipulating the child”, “failure to facilitate a relationship with”, “failure to act in a manner to have the child reestablish a relationship with”, and so on. Here in Australia too, there have been cases where residence has been transferred as a result of the courts finding an unacceptable risk of harm to the child through a parent engaging in such behaviours.  It’s clear the courts are quite wise to the types of behaviours that parents may use to manipulate children, no matter which terminology is used.

Do you need assistance with a parenting or other family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance to arrange a free first conference.


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