In Psychology Today, Edward Kruk has written of 11-15% of the children of divorcing parents suffering the effects of implacable hostility. In the UK, where roughly 250,000 divorces are granted every year, that estimate would equate to some 50,000-75,000 children every year.

The parent labelled with ‘implacable hostility’ is unable to see any value in their child spending time with the other parent.  But the effects of this on the child can be extreme, and the phrase used to discribe this is Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), which can begin at a very young age – even younger than 2 years old.

Although not a legally recognised syndrome, PAS is usually epitomised by the resident parent alienating the child against the non-resident parent.

PAS is a form of child abuse in many people’s opinion, including my own – but there are much more subtle and common forms of alienation, and not always against the non-resident parent.

This mother shares her story:


Ross Jones of Families Need Fathers has been quoted as saying:  “It is recognised that children who are in the centre of such extreme conflicts of loyalty between their parents may suffer short-term damage in anxiety and depression and longer term difficulties in education, mental illness and their own adult relationships.”

The child referred to in the short film suffered (and still suffers) from pronounced nervous ticks.  Although it is not possible to say that this was a direct result of listening to negative comments about his mother by his father from a young age – but it certainly would not be going out on a limb to suggest that it had an impact.

In an article on the subject of Alienation, three distinct types are defined:

Type One: Naïve Alienator
“Tell your father that he has more money than I do, so let him buy your soccer shoes.” 

Naïve alienators are parents who are passive about the children’s relationship with the other parent but will occasionally do or say something that can alienate. All parents will occasionally be naïve alienators.

I can certainly put my hand up to that one.  Luckily, my children have learned to police us as parents and put us right when we err into denigrating the other parent in front of them.  Even such a low ‘naive’ level of alienation is not acceptable (though sometimes hard to avoid!)

Type Two: Active Alienators
“I don’t want you to tell your father that I earned this extra money. The miser will take it from his child support check and that will keep us from going to Disneyland. You remember he’s done this before when we wanted to go to Grandma’s for Christmas.” 

Active alienators also know better than to alienate, but their intense hurt or anger causes them to impulsively lose control over their behavior or what they say. Later, they may feel very guilty about how they behaved.


Type Three: Obsessed Alienator
“I love my children. If the court can’t protect them from their abusive father, I will. Even though he’s never abused the children, I know it’s a matter of time. The children are frightened of their father. If they don’t want to see him, I’m not going to force them. They are old enough to make up their own minds.” 

Obsessed alienators have a fervent cause to destroy the targeted parent. Frequently a parent can be a blend between two types of alienators, usually a combination between the naïve and active alienator. Rarely does the obsessed alienator have enough self-control or insight to blend with the other types. These three patterns of alienating behaviors are not intended to be used as a diagnosis. The types have not been validated sufficient for litigation.


The article goes on to say: “Keep in mind that the source of alienating behavior can come from mothers, fathers, stepparents, relatives, and even babysitters, “best friends” of the parent, the parent’s attorney, or a therapist.

Thought-provoking words indeed.  How many times have any of us been drawn into taking sides, and becoming critical of ‘the other parent’ on behalf of our friend or sibling?


The key message for me in the video story was how important it was for friends to help protect the young child, by taking them out of the room when the father was being critical of the mother.

‘Implacable Hostility’ is recognised by the Courts, and is typically seen where mothers obstruct the father’s access to the children. But the consequences for the mother can be severe, as Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator John Stebbing of Stephen Rimmer LLP explains:


With very young children under two, it may be all too easy to make the mistake that they are ‘not listening’ to your conversation in which you berate your Ex for their many imperfections.


As a society, we need to be aware of the more subtle forms of alienation, and remember to put the child first.  If our best friend is critising a parent, no matter what age the child, either take that child out of ear shot or even better, tell the parent to “shut the hell up”.


For more videos on Parental Alienation see CoParenting in a Box.

Images by:
Alexanda Florschutz:
Anna Donfrancesco
Postcards from Splitsville:
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