This case study (suitably disguised) shows how the effect of alienation
affects the later life of the individual. It consists of 3 parts.
Part 1, demonstrates the reaction of the child
at age 10 to being alienated against her mother by a vindictive father. It
is presented in the form of a dialogue between the child and the
psychologist. The Judge’s decision is often made based on what the
Part 2, presents the child as an adult 16 years
later showing the long term effects which have resulted from the parental
Part 3 shows the resurrection of the now
adult’s feelings toward her mother (the alienated parent) and the
flawed judgment of the court in being ruled by the concept of the
child’s right to make decisions whilst under the influence of
The Long Term Effect of Parental Alienation in Childhood
What follows concerns an alienated girl aged 10 which constitutes part
one; this is followed by part 2 when the child has reached the age of 26
i.e. 16 years later after having been alienated against one of her parents;
and part 3 deals with the girl now aged 26 i.e. the child who was alienated
when young and the necessity for her to appear in court.
Part 1: Gemma when interviewed about her feelings, aged 10
I sometimes believe that the court’s either take the easy way out
or fail to acknowledge, or are not aware that the rights of the child can
be manipulated or usurped by an alienating parent. Although the child is always a victim in
the case of implacable hostility between parents, the child also becomes a
“powerful figure”, which the child should not be, in a scenario
of hostile parents separating.
Let me illustrate this by a conversation I had with a 10 year old girl
in this position. In the dialogue ‘P’ will stand for Psychologist (the expert witness), and
‘G’ for Gemma, the
child in question. (In order to
disguise the identity of the child various things have been altered
including her name.)
P: What do you feel
about your parents splitting up?
G: I expected it for
some time. My parents were always arguing. Fortunately they never hit one
another but their arguing was terrible and worrying. They always tried to
hurt one another and it hurt me as well.
P: What happened next?
G: Mum left and then all
was peaceful. Father told me that I could go with mum if I wanted to but if
I did he didn’t want to know me anymore. I decided to stay with dad.
We always got on well. He did a lot for me especially when I was a baby.
P: Didn’t you
miss your mum?
G. Yes, a lot at first
but I gradually got used to being without her. Dad told me often to visit
my mum if I wished to but I know he didn’t really want me to. He
never really insisted that I do so. Dad told me many times that if mum
loved me she wouldn’t have gone off and left. He told me mum never
wanted children and that I was a “mistake” but as far as he was
concerned a wonderful surprise!
P: Did you believe
everything dad told you?
G: Not at first but when
mum never called I thought he must be right. She never really cared about
me. (Years later Gemma found out that mother telephoned on many occasions
and wrote letters to her that father kept from her and destroyed).
P: What happened next?
G: After a while my
mother wanted to have contact with me but father said that she was trying
to have custody through the courts and take me away from him.
P: You must have known
by then that your mother wanted to be with you, and also loved you even if
she no longer loved your father?
G: That’s not the
way my dad explained it to me. He said she was jealous because I wanted to
be with him (my dad), but she didn’t really want me. She was only
trying to make trouble according to my dad.
P: Did you believe what
your dad was telling you?
G: Yes, it made sense.
Why did she never call me or write to me? Why did she leave me? In the end
I decided that if she didn’t want to see me, I wouldn’t bother
with her anymore. I didn’t know where she was anyway.
P: How can you be sure
your mother does not love, or did not love you?
G: My dad told me that
my mother often lied and pretended things. I hear my aunties and uncles (paternal family) talking about my
mum as not being a nice person. I believe my dad. He doesn’t lie and
he has always cared about me while my mother only pretended she loved me.
She didn’t even look after me when I was a baby. That’s what
dad told me.
P: You wouldn’t
have known as a baby whether you yourself felt your mother cared about you
or not would you?
G: My father and my
grandmother also told me the same thing and they didn’t lie either.
I’ve now decided I don’t want to see my mother anymore. No-one
can make me meet her. It’s my life and it’s my decision. The
Judge even told my father that a child has rights and should not be forced
to be with a parent against their will.
P: Judges do say these
things, but I know that not seeing your mother anymore is going to be bad
for you now and in the future, and for your mother the loss of a once very
close child is indescribably hurtful. Do you really want to hurt your
mother, and yourself, by refusing contact with her?
G: I don’t need
her. My father has always been the one to love me and look after me and
anyway the Judge said………
P: I know what the
Judge said but the Judge doesn’t know what you really feel deep down
inside about your mum and could feel again if you met her and got to know
G: And you think you
know?! You’re not even part of our family. How do you know how I
feel. I know you are a Psychologist. They don’t know everything. I
know what I think and I’m not going to change my mind.
P: I really believe you
should spend some time with your mother to get to really know her and she
to get to know you once again.
G: I told you I
don’t need her and I don’t want to spend time with her. She
really doesn’t want me anyway. She is only trying to make trouble by
forcing my father to go to court.
As the expert witness in the case I had seen many cases that were
similar to this one. Gemma refused to engage in therapy with anyone. She
even shouted down the therapist and used abusive language. She showed no
respect for any adult that the court asked to see and speak with her. She
obviously felt empowered by these events. I felt therefore the only course
of action other than capitulation to the child and what the child claimed
she wanted, as well as what the Judge wanted, was to recommend the removal
of Gemma from the father’s custody and placing Gemma either with her
mother or in a children’s home for 6 months so that the mother and
Gemma could engage with one another without the influence of the father
interfering in this process.
After an initial period I was certain that Gemma would re-engage with
her mother. Father, once the child
had reengaged with the mother could have contact with Gemma, providing father gave real assurance that
he would desist from any further alienating Gemma against her mother. Both
parents could eventually therefore enjoy a form of joint custody. That was
my recommendation to the court.
CAFCASS felt that if this was recommended and carried out it would be at
the cost of serious psychological harm resulting to Gemma. They suggested
that therapeutic intervention was the only way forward. Gemma’s
reaction to therapy in the past was not to engage actively with the
therapist and she regarded this with a determination that ‘her
opinion would not be changed.’ When she was given therapy she did not
engage with the therapist and eventually avoided it altogether persuading
the father not to take her to the therapy sessions. The father was very
happy not to do so and pleaded helplessness in not being able to
“make her go”.
The Judge did not consider that parental alienation had even occurred
and if it did it was of a minimal nature. He was convinced that the child
not wanting to see the mother was “her choice”. The
Judge felt that Gemma, as a child of 10 years of age, was capable of
knowing what she wanted and what she did not want. He agreed with the
Social Worker that great distress would result to Gemma if she were to be
removed from her father’s custody and placed with the mother. He felt
she had settled well and felt safe in her current home with her father. He felt
the right of Gemma needed to be respected. The Children’s Charter
had emphasised that right (see appendix 1).
Part 2: Gemma, at the age 26, 16 years later
Gemma had made no contact with her mother. Mother tried to call her,
wrote letters and sent Christmas and Birthday cards but never received any
acknowledgement. Telephone calls never got through to her daughter. The
suffering of losing a beloved daughter never left her. She was very
unhappy. She wanted so much to hear from her child. Gemma had not done well
with her life. She had dropped out of school without gaining any
She became involved with a group of girls and boys who were already
drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana and there was a good chance that
they would turn to other drugs. Most recently she got into trouble for
shoplifting, not one but several times, and was due to attend court. Gemma
had really let herself go. She was now overweight and never went to see her
father except when she wanted money. Father had another partner with whom
Gemma did not get on. She had been having numerous one night stands with
men as well as women. She had become pregnant and her father had paid for
her to have an abortion. Additionally, she found it difficult to hold down
a job due to her late nights out with her friends and her inability to get
up in the morning. A Solicitor was selected to represent her in the court
paid for by Legal Aid. The Solicitor questioned her about her life and
discovered that she had a mother. Gemma had not seen her mother for many
years. Gemma mentioned that she had been seen by a Psychologist when her
mother left the home. The Solicitor made enquiries and found that Psychologist
(myself) was still practicing in the area of family problems. The
Psychologist was requested to act as the expert witness in this case.
I suggested to Gemma that she might welcome meeting her mother after
this passage of time. Her reply to this suggestion was as expected:
“What good would that be? She’s never been interested in me
since she left the home when I was a child.” Gemma however, accepted
my proposal in the end to find her mother and to meet with her regardless
of the passage of time. Gemma’s mother had never remarried. She had
obviously aged and felt somewhat anxious about meeting her daughter after
so many years. The meeting took place at the Psychologist’s clinic.
It was unbelievable to watch Gemma being embraced by her mother and Gemma
responding as if they had only been parted for a short time. They were both
in tears, and I had to admit, so was I!
Each spoke at the same time. There was so much to say after so many
years of being apart. Mother explained how she had written many letters to
her daughter to which she never received a reply. Gemma in turn responded
that she had never received any of these letters. The telephone number had
become ex-directory and had been changed as Gemma’s father no longer
wished to hear from his former partner, and he did not wish his daughter to
hear from her either.
I considered how Gemma’s life might have been so different had her
mother been with her, guiding her and being a role model for her. I felt
instinctively that I could use Gemma’s past experiences of having
been alienated and connecting this with her current downfall and antisocial
behaviour. I would assess Gemma to discover what the impact was on her of
losing a loving mother. Gemma had always felt there was something wrong
with her which led to her mother abandoning her!
Now Gemma realised that her mother had never forgotten her and had never
stopped loving her. Gemma gradually realised this and the fact that her
father and his family were responsible for her loss of a loving and caring
mother. Gemma also claimed that the Judge and the court were also
responsible of depriving her of a wonderful mother. She had told the Judge
that she wanted to be with her father and wanted nothing to do with her
mother. Gemma realised that the Judge shouldn’t have believed this
statement but should have listened to the Psychologist who was aware that
her father had alienated her against the mother.
Gemma felt she had been betrayed and used as a weapon by the father
against a loving mother. Gemma questioned why those in authority had
allowed this injustice to happen, although she knew she had contributed to
this herself. She was however, just a child. Why did the Judge believe a
child when she said she did not want anything to do with her mother!
Gemma’s life had been virtually ruined by a vindictive father and a
Judiciary that failed to understand Gemma’s deeper feelings which
were being influenced by an alienating father. This forced her to make a
decision which she should not have had to make. She was after all only a
child who had been manipulated. Her superficially based rights of not
wanting contact with her mother had been granted. As the Psychologist knew,
deep down Gemma did not wish to have no contact with her mother. Here true
and real right to have continued contact with a loving mother had been
I decided after examining Gemma’s intelligence and personality to
draw attention to the mistakes that had been made in the past by a
Judiciary, that failed to accept that Gemma’s right as a child had
indeed been observed, but she had as a result lost a loving mother and the
input that mother could have had in Gemma’s life and development.
Despite the sadness I felt about what had happened in the past that
could have been prevented, it was gratifying to see Gemma and her mother
walking out of the clinic clutching one another almost in desperation. I
must confess I felt immense joy in seeing the two together as if they had
never been apart. Sometimes a Psychologist’s gratification also comes
many years later after having failed initially to achieve what he wanted to
achieve. This was one such time
Part 3: The expert witness in court again
The assessment of Gemma’s intelligence revealed that she had the
ability to eventually attend a university. She needed, however, to return
to college to finish numerous GCSEs and take numerous ‘A’
levels. Mother had retired from work as an Accountant for a Local
Authority. She had a small flat and offered Gemma a small bedroom which she
agreed also to make into a place where Gemma could study.
Gemma’s personality had a large number of traits such as
depression, worry, and feelings of guilt and anxiety. She also suffered
from impulsiveness. As a result of finding her mother, and on the advice of
the Psychologist, Gemma agreed to continue with her education. This
information was recorded in a report for the court. I presented the fact
that Gemma’s downfall had, at least in part, been due to the loss of
a loving mother with whom she was now belatedly re-engaged and with whose company
she was happy.
This time the Judge actually listened to what I had to say about the
good future prospects I predicted for Gemma. Gemma had been in trouble
before for a streak of shoplifting. The possibility of a custodial sentence
was likely. I promised to provide Gemma with therapy ‘pro bono’
if she was not to be incarcerated for this current charge. The Judge gave
Gemma a deferred sentence and warned her that the next time she would not
be so fortunate if she offended again. Gemma, I must report, never disappointed
me. She finished her studies at college level and was accepted at
university to take a degree, which she selected, in psychology. I knew she
would do well. She regained the love of her mother, something she realised
now she had never lost. I, naturally wondered why Gemma had chosen to read
psychology! Perhaps it was because she, unlike many others, would seek to
understand the depth of problems resulting from parental alienation.
This I had tried to instill in Gemma when I interviewed her when she was so
uncooperative as a child.
I thought Gemma would make a good psychologist. Her personal experience
in early life would stand her in good stead. She would hear the voice of a
child but look beneath that voice and understand what really was important
to that child: the love and care of not one, but two parents in a