What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is often in the headlines and quoted by many separated parents who are being denied time with their children. But what is ‘parental alienation’ and how do the Courts deal with it?
Parental alienation has been described as ‘the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other parent’. Fortunately, parental alienation does not feature in the majority of cases where there is a dispute between parents as to the arrangements for their children post-separation or divorce.
Even where it is suspected, experienced professionals are usually able to identify the issues that have led to the child expressing strongly held views that they do not wish to spend time with one parent or rejecting all forms of contact with that parent. Once these issues have been identified, efforts are made to resolve them with a view to the relationship between child and parent being restored.
There may be justifiable reasons for a child not wanting to spend time with a parent, particularly if the child has witnessed or is aware of domestic abuse between their parents or, perhaps, when the child has been harmed by the parent they do not want to see.
Of course, sadly, there are cases where the child has been manipulated by one parent against the other for no justifiable reason and to such a degree that the relationship with the other parent has been severely damaged. Such behaviour is extremely psychologically harmful to the child and will most likely lead to the child suffering significant long-term emotional harm which will affect them into adulthood and may impinge upon their ability to form fulfilling relationships themselves.
Early intervention is critical where parental alienation is suspected or alleged so that the court can scrutinise the circumstances and determine what is in the best interests of the child’s welfare. To do so, the court will direct the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to thoroughly investigate the reasons for the child rejecting their parent and report their findings to the court. Recognising that no two cases are alike, CAFCASS will use a Child Impact Assessment Framework to evaluate what is happening for this particular child; undertake risk assessments and make recommendations to the court both as to how the issues have arisen and how they can be resolved for the benefit of the child.
It may be that CAFCASS will recommend to the court that ‘direct’ contact is not in the best interests of the child’s welfare in that spending time with the ‘alienated’ parent would be harmful for the child or place him or the other parent at significant risk of harm. If, however, the court is satisfied that it is safe and in the best interests of the child for the relationship with both parents to be maintained, it will do what it can to ensure that this is the case.
Such cases are often complex and require specialist help to identify the root cause for the child’s rejection of their parent and how this can be resolved before contact can be restored.