Parental alienation is a complex and emotionally charged issue that can arise in the context of family law disputes. It refers to a situation where one parent engages in behaviours that undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent. This experience can have lasting consequences for the affected child.

In Australia, the family law recognises the significance of parental alienation and provides mechanisms to address it. By understanding what parental alienation is, how the family court system views it, implementing effective strategies, and seeking help when needed, parents can work towards providing their children with a healthier and more stable upbringing, even in the face of a challenging co-parenting dynamic.

What is Parental Alienation?

“Parental alienation” is not used in the Family Law Act, though it is frequently raised in proceedings in the Family Court of Western Australia. Based on the common usage, parental alienation involves actions, statements, or behaviours by one parent that manipulate or control a child’s perception of their other parent. These actions typically include denigrating the targeted parent, restricting contact or communication between the child and the other parent, and creating a hostile environment that induces fear or anger toward the targeted parent.

It is important to understand that parental alienation does not only occur when one parent has actively set out to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent. In many cases, parental alienation is unintentional, where a parent’s behaviour inadvertently leads to the same result.

Best Interests

Australian family law emphasises the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration when determining parenting matters. If it is established that parental alienation is occurring, and it is detrimental to the child’s emotional well-being, the Court may intervene to protect the child’s interests. The Court has the authority to make orders to limit the damage caused by parental alienation. These orders may include supervised visitation or counselling for the child and parents. In severe cases, when the alienation is highly detrimental to the child, the court may limit contact between the child and the alienating parent.


Parental alienation most often occurs when the relationship between the parents themselves is strained. A strong co-parenting relationship with open and regular communication makes it much less likely that parental alienation will occur. If it is safe to do so, parents should maintain regular, child-focused communication. This can be facilitated by technology that allows parents to communicate in a structured and secured environment, such as a co-parenting app.

Co-parents can also consider family counselling or therapy, either to resolve existing issues or to build up effective communication to prevent future difficulties. When issues are particularly difficult to resolve, mediation can help to address underlying issues and develop a cooperative parenting plan. The aim of using these resources is to enable co-parents to identify any concerns about the child’s well-being and work as a team to find solutions, which can prevent unintentional parental alienation as the result of built-up frustration and anger.

Court Response

Real cases can help to illustrate the approach to parental alienation taken by the Court.

In Ambler & Ambler [2019], for example, the Court awarded sole parental responsibility to the father because the mother was unable to cooperatively parent and had engaged in a campaign of serious alienation. She displayed unrelenting criticism and negativity towards the father in front of the children, establishing an ‘alienation type dynamic’. The Court described the hostility between the parties as damaging to the children and found that the risk of further alienation meant that, though the mother should spend substantial time with the children, she should not have parental responsibility for them.

However, it is important to note that parental alienation is only part of a larger analysis of the child’s best interest and the overall conduct of both parents. Even if there is evidence of parental alienation, this does not necessarily disqualify someone as a competent parent. In Ward & Ward [2016], for example, the Court noted that the father’s household (specifically the stepmother) was strongly antipathetic towards the mother, telling derogative stories about her and attempting to sway the children to the father’s side. While the judge was convinced that this behaviour had emotionally harmed the children and was alienating the children from their mother, the judge did not accept that the father had acted deliberately. Ultimately, the Court decided to discharge all previous parenting orders and award shared parental responsibility but allow the children to choose which parent to spend time with on an ongoing basis.

Getting Help

Dealing with parental alienation can be emotionally taxing and legally complex. If you find yourself facing this issue, you should keep detailed records of any instances of parental alienation, including text messages, emails, and other relevant documents. This evidence may be crucial in court proceedings. You should also seek legal advice from a family lawyer who specialises in child custody and family law matters. They can help you understand your rights and options.

This is general information only and you should obtain professional advice relevant to your circumstances. If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 08 9221 5775 or email

Ambler & Ambler [2019] FamCA 870 (9 December 2019);query=ambler%20and%20ambler;mask_path=

Ward & Ward [2016] FamCA 827 (29 September 2016)