Children and Family Law- The tragedy of Parental Alienation

There is no doubt that a break up of any kind is one of the hardest things any person can go through, when we are faced with the loss of someone who once was a major part of our lives we feel a number of conflicting emotions; we can find ourselves acting in a way which we didn’t think we were capable of and often become unrecognizable to those who care for us most. This can be particularly evident when a child is involved, if one party feels aggrieved, cheated and angry they can start to sway their child’s view of their ex partner, whether this is done consciously or subconsciously this action can be described as “Parental Alienation”.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is when a parent tries to turn their child against the other parent, in the hope that their relationship will break down and contact between them will be lost.

Understanding parental alienation

Parental alienation is most likely to happen when a couple are divorcing or separating. Typically what happens is that the resident parent behaves in a way that will damage the relationship between their child and the non-resident parent. The intention is that the relationship will become so corrupted that the child no longer wishes to see the non-resident parent, who is then removed from the child’s life altogether.

In the past there was very little data or understanding about the issue, but over recent years those working in family law began to raise concerns about the prevalence of parental alienation in cases of divorce and separation. Now more and more attention has been given to the matter, and although the definition of parental alienation is still being debated, significant inroads have been made into the recognition and resolution of the problem.

What amounts to parental alienation?

It is important to understand that parental alienation is more than simply having acrimonious feelings towards your ex. Divorce and separation often results in bitter feelings between parents, and this ill feeling can be detected by children. Parental alienation is more than this. In fact, it is considered a form of child psychological abuse, as it involves one parent manipulating the child so that he/she will reject the other parent.

There are varying degrees of parental alienation, and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) says they are all damaging to the child. Examples might include constantly bad-mouthing the other parent, limiting contact for no good reason, putting pressure on the child to stop seeing the other parent, suggesting the other parent does not like or love the child, and bribing the child not to spend time with the other parent.

Sometimes the parent who is accused of parental alienation does not even realise that he/she is doing it. Rather, it is a pattern of behaviour that has developed, perhaps out of anger or fear. Other times it is more deliberate, and other times the parent feels that their actions are justified, as they believe it is in the child’s best interests not to have a relationship with the other parent. Therefore parental alienation is an incredibly complex and varied problem.

Dealing with parental alienation

Until recently, CAFCASS dealt with parental alienation on a case-by-case basis. They would like for signs that indicated parental alienation, such as the child resisting the non-resident parent for no obvious reason or speaking about the non-resident parent in words that were evidently not their own. However, CAFCASS are soon-to-be launching a scheme called the ‘High Conflict Practice Pathway’ that could change the way cases of parental alienation are dealt with.

The scheme was piloted late last year. Under the new approach, parents who try to turn their children against the other parent will be invited to change their behaviour through therapy. If this does not prove successful, it could actually lead to the child being placed in the care of the non-resident parent. The parent who is doing the alienating could even lose contact with their child altogether.

What to do about parental alienation

If you think your child is being turned against you, it will be a very frightening and upsetting experience. Often you will feel completely powerless, as you will have no control over what your ex is saying about you. It will be you word against theirs, and ultimately you cannot make your child see you if he/she has decided to stop contact. This can leave you in a seemingly hopeless position.

But do not give up. Parental alienation is becoming increasingly recognised in the UK, and those who experience it have a number of options open to them. If your case is already going through the court system, you should tell your appointed CAFCASS practitioner about your fears. Your CAFCASS worker can then investigate the issue further. Or you could contact a social worker or, if you think your child is in danger, the local authority.

You can also speak to a family lawyer about the best way forward. Often in cases of parental alienation it is necessary to remain calm, collect the evidence that demonstrates parental alienation is taking place, and put forward a strong case that does not aim to damage the other parent, but to re-establish contact with your child. This can be a difficult thing to achieve on your own, and so you may wish to have a family lawyer acting on your behalf.

Contact us

If you want to know more about how a family law solicitor can help you with issues surrounding child contact and parental alienation, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We understand how upsetting and frustrating such issues can be and will do our utmost to assist.

For an informal chat or to book a consultation, call us on 0333 4564 444, or for international calls, dial +44 1992 505 406.


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