4th February 2020
Dealing with parent alienation
We are often instructed by parents who have separated and struggle to come to an agreement with their ex-partner regarding contact arrangements with their children. The breakdown of a relationship between parents can often result in conflict and disagreements with each other. During the depths of despair with one another, this can result in the parents having difficulty putting their child’s needs first. In more extreme circumstances, when a parent is actively trying to turn their child against the other parent, this can become harmful for the child. This issue has become more prominent in the news lately and is commonly referred to as parental alienation.
Parental alienation is a complex area and any sign of this should be acted upon quickly to avoid any further alienating behaviour that could be harmful to children. Parental alienation is recognised by CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) as being “when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”, usually the parent that the child resides with.
Behaviour which can lead to parental alienation includes a parent badmouthing or belittling the other; limiting or preventing contact with the other parent; not allowing the child to talk about their other parent; and/or creating the impression that the other parent dislikes or does not love the child.
In this situation, we would stress that you should obtain urgent legal advice to try and resolve matters which may require intervention or support from a counselling service. If the matter cannot be resolved, it will likely require the court’s intervention who would work together with us and CAFCASS.
CAFCASS would assess whether there is any risk of harm to the child, and where parental alienation is identified this can be emotionally harmful to children. CAFCASS will assess whether it is safe for the child to have contact with one or both parents and provide their recommendations to the court.
The court will carefully consider whether the children can be kept safe but also promotes maintaining relationships with both parents wherever possible.
In a recent 2019 hearing, the children’s father had originally applied for contact in 2011. However, the problem was identified too late and the extent of the children’s alienation from the father had been underestimated and the emotional damage to the children had already affected them so much that the father withdrew his application to the court.
HHJ Wildblood QC stated that “parental responsibility… requires her to act in the best interest of her children… to promote the relationship between these children and their father “. He went on to say “she had adult choices to make; the choices that she made were bad ones and deeply harmful to the children”.
This only reaffirms that parents should obtain legal advice from an early stage where parental alienation is suspected. If you have been affected by contact issues since separating from your ex-partner, please contact our family department to arrange an appointment.
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