Alienation in terms of family law involves a parent whereby they speak to their children in a manner that alienates another parent. This alienation involves pushing the child or children to reject or hold off from contacting or developing bonds with the alienated family member. This further involves the alienating party attempting to gain the child or children as an ally for themselves and have them only on their side.

In the heated moment, alienating words may seem small or satisfactory, but the evidence insists this causes real world detrimental implications to children’s well-being and growth. Further, alienation, due to its long-lasting effects and psychological damage, has been accepted as a form of emotional abuse.

The qualitative (interview based) research article ‘The Impact of Parental Alienating Behaviours on the Mental Health of Adults Alienated in Childhood,’ delved into the mental health and other impacts on adults who faced parental alienation during their youths. Four main themes were linked with the participants, which included: mental health difficulties (including anxiety disorders and trauma reactions), emotional pain, addiction, substance abuse, coping issues and resilience.

Consequently, children who do face parental alienation must undergo individual and family counselling to prevent certain difficulties, including present or future emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Case law and links to Primary considerations

Further to these aftereffects, the alienating parent involved, if undergoing divorce and parental arrangements, may have their actions considered by the judiciary. Further, the primary considerations under section 60CC of the Family Law Act may then be regarded with alienating actions.

Vadisanis & Vadisanis (No. 3) [2009] FamCA 1385 (23 December 2009) (austlii.edu.au)

For example, in Vadisanis & Vadisanis (No.3) 2009, there was an extreme instance of alienation by the father towards the mother, whereby it was found by Dr.B, that the alienation was found just in time to stop the severing of the relationship between the mother and children. Also, the father did not understand the negative impact on his children or regret his actions. Justice Le Poer Trench delved into the primary considerations. For example, from paragraphs 553-557, regarding:

  • the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents;

It was the opinion of the court that the alienating actions of the father almost destroyed any ability for the mother to continue a meaningful relationship with the children and that orders were to be made to enable meaningful relationships with both parents, and

  • the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence;

It was held that alienation of a child’s relationship with another parent may equate to emotional abuse and expose the children to psychological harm.

The orders from the court in this matter involved that the mother would have Equal Shared Parental Responsibility, inform the father of decisions made regarding the children, and that the children were to live with the mother.

Also, at paragraph 687 it was ordered that the father meet with a therapist and address the breakdown of marriage, and his understanding of the parental alienation he was involved in and its effects on the children. Further, the positive progress of the father reported by his therapist to the mother and the independent children’s lawyer would then, allow him to have more time with the children.

Colvan & Colvan [2015] FCCA 99 (13 January 2015) (austlii.edu.au)

In Colvan v Colvan [2015], the father used heavy parental alienation against his wife due to his inability to hold back his negative emotions about her. In this matter, the children were born through IVF, using a donated egg and the father’s sperm. A pattern of repeated language from the husband involved that the mother did not have a biological or parental connection with the children. Judge Bender did not look lightly upon this and likened it to calling the mother an incubator. Unlike the previous case however, the mother did have poor parenting skills.

The primary considerations – considered by Judge Bender

  • the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents;

If the children continued to spend time with the father, any meaningful relationship with the mother would be non-existent (paragraph 172-174).

  • the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence;

The mother in this instance had parenting skills that were poor, and an inability to hold her anger, or stop herself from yelling and swearing at the children. However, exaggerated claims about her ill-parenting from both her children and husband, including physical abuse, and further alienation from the husband were also strong issues. It was held in paragraph 186 that the children would be no better off if they remained with the father.

It was concluded that there was a small window of opportunity to use remedial action to reduce the effects the parental alienation had against the mother and further redevelop their relationship.

Some of the orders involved: the mother having sole Equal Shared Parental Responsibility, the children living with the mother and the children not communicating with the father for 8 weeks. These orders were made to halt the immediately concerning alienating behaviour of the father and to support the redevelopment of a healthy relationship between the mother and the children. Further, day arrangements were ordered by the court regarding when the father could spend time with the children.

Conclusion

The current case law indicates that where alienation is extreme, recognised by a Doctor, on the verge of severing the relationship of the children with a parent, and where there are no regrets, promise of change or where there is communication which denies parental status, the court will not look lightly upon such actions. This is because it goes against the primary considerations, as explored above.

If you require legal advice regarding any parenting matters, our highly experienced and qualified Family Lawyers at Genesis Edge can help you get the results. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 1300 559 888 or fill out the enquiry form here.

 


 

  1. Miralles, Gody & Hidalgo 2021 ‘Long-Term Emotional Consequences of Parental Alienation Exposure in Children of Divorced Parents: A Systematic review’ Current Psychology Vol 42, 12055-12069.
  2. Verhaar, Matthewson & Caitlin 2022 ‘The Impact of Parental Alienating Behaviours on the Mental Health of Adults Alienated in Childhood’ Children (Basel) Vol 4.
  3. Moore & Moore 2013 ‘The Mirror Without a Face: The Assessment of Parental Alienation Among Children of High-Conflict Divorces’ VISTAS Article 6.