Parental alienation adds an extra challenge to Australian family law's already difficult divorce and separation process. Here, our Family Law team explains everything you need to know about parental alienation - including specific examples and your legal rights if you believe you are experiencing it.

Parental alienation: Its origins explained

Parental alienation can be traced back to the work of American psychologist Richard Gardner which emerged in 1985. During this time Parental Alienation Syndrome was used to describe “a mental condition suffered by children who have become alienated from one parent by the other”.

Today, this term continues to be used in the legal system - and specifically in the Australian Family Law Courts - to describe “the deliberate actions of one parent to disrupt and prevent children’s ongoing relationships with their other parent.”

What are some examples of parental alienation?

Parental alienation contradicts the principles of family law which aim to protect a child’s right to a meaningful relationship with both their parents. It can be considered a form of abuse. This is because when one parent comes between the relationship their child has with the other parent it can lead to long-term damage - including estrangement of a child from the parent.

So how can you recognise if your former partner’s behaviour might qualify as contributing to parental alienation? Because it’s often subtle, it’s not always easy to spot. However, according to Australian Family Law, parental alienation can occur in a range of ways.

Some of the most common examples include:

  • Preventing a parent from seeing or talking to their child
  • Controlling and monitoring how a parent communicates with their child (such as intercepting phone calls and text messages)
  • Deliberately and purposefully restricting a child’s availability to the other parent
  • Disturbing plans that would allow a child to spend time with their parents
  • Breaking conditions of a shared parenting plan
  • Belittling or criticising the other parent in front of the child
  • Sharing unnecessary details of the separation or divorce with the child
  • Suggesting the child has been abused by the other parent (without material proof)

Your legal rights

When dealing with parental alienation, your first approach should generally be centred around alternative dispute resolutions - such as mediation. If unsuccessful the matter may proceed to court, where a judge will consider a child’s best interests.

According to Section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975, the primary considerations for this best interest standard are:

“(a) the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents; and (b) the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.”

If it can be proven that there is evidence of family violence, (either physical or psychological) then the need to protect the child from these harms will trump any other consideration.

New South Lawyers’ communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication.

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