Kate Molan, Associate
The use of the term 'implacably hostile' when describing a parent is not a recent development in the family courts. It is a phrase often used to describe extreme, negative behaviour exhibited by one parent to undermine a child’s relationship with the other.
Many separating parents struggle to come to terms with the new dynamics and mutual respect that co-parenting apart entails. Most will promote a child’s relationship with the other parent even if, at times, it is difficult to set aside their own feelings as an ex-partner. Being an implacably hostile parent is much more extreme than this: the term should only be applied to a parent who will do almost anything to frustrate a relationship between the child and their other parent.
What is parental alienation?
Implacably hostile situations can often result in parental alienation. Parental alienation describes a situation where a child has been deliberately manipulated, coerced or otherwise pressured to align themselves to one parent by the other. The impact on children has been recently highlighted by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass
) as highly damaging and abusive. Chief Executive Officer Anthony Douglas said: 'I think the way you treat your children after a relationship has broken up is just as powerful a public health issue as smoking or drinking.'
So what does parental alienation look like on the ground? Strategies employed include one parent constantly criticising or belittling the other, preventing the child talking about the other parent, limiting contact, removing any presence of the other parent from the life of the child, promoting the idea that the other parent does not love the child or giving the impression that the child must choose between parents or be punished, by way of threats or by withdrawing affection and attention. Parents describe situations where they feel their children have been brainwashed against them so that any positive memories of their relationship have been erased.