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By Kelly Willmott
What is Parental Alienation?
We often hear the phrase ‘parental alienation’ in family law proceedings when one parent believes that a child has been negatively influenced by the other parent, thus damaging their relationship.
Whilst not every accusation of parental alienation has merit, and may be raised by one parent who is simply not happy with the contact arrangements, when parental alienation is alleged, the court has to determine whether further investigation is needed as, if established, parental alienation can have a massive impact on the child arrangements.
Parental alienation is where a parent tries to ‘alienate’ a child from the other parent. They do this by manipulating the child and replacing the child’s true wishes and feelings with their own negative views of the other parent.
It is possible for a parent to undermine and interfere with a child’s relationship with the other parent either consciously or unconsciously, but the result is that a child shows clear resistance to contact and hostility to one parent without any real justification. It is ultimately psychological manipulation of a child.
Whilst separation can be difficult, children should not be exposed to adult issues or conflict and neither parent should denigrate the other to, or in the presence of, the child. Parents must be able to contain any hostility they have towards one another for the benefit of the children and to reduce their exposure to emotionally harmful comments or actions.
If court proceedings are issued because there is a dispute about child arrangements, the court may require Cafcass to prepare a report for the court in which they explore the child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings. Whilst the child’s views are not the only consideration of the court in making final orders, it is obvious that if a child is showing reluctance to have any relationship with the other parent, this can influence the court’s decision as the welfare of the child is a paramount consideration.
Of course, it is for this reason that some parents consciously try and alienate the other parent and why the court must be satisfied that the child’s views have not been negatively influenced.
In proceedings it is often Cafcass who are tasked with initially assessing the risk that a child may have been subject to parental alienation. Cafcass issued new guidance in October 2018 to help identify when parental alienation has occurred and, following this, the House of Commons released a briefing paper on 10th February 2020. https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8763
When parental alienation is established, the court will try and resolve the matter and rebuild the relationship between the child and alienated parent. Every child is entitled to a relationship with both parents, provided this is safe and appropriate, and the court will endeavour to make orders that provide for this.
The most extreme cases can amount to child protection issues and where a parent simply cannot promote a positive and healthy relationship between the child and the ‘alienated’ parent, the court can actually transfer ‘residence’ of the children.
If you require any advice or assistance in relation to children matters, please contact one of our specialist family lawyers on 01604 609560 or by email and we will be happy to help.