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Parental alienation

By 16/04/2023No Comments

In this issue of the magazine, Jennie Apsey, Solicitor in the Family Department at Dean Wilson LLP, looks at the issue of parental alienation.

In recent years, there has been a significant amount of media attention around the phrase ‘parental alienation’. Most family solicitors would report that up until three or four years ago, this was not an issue that was raised as a concern by parents, or at least such behaviour did not have a specific name, nor was it a recognised phenomenon. It is now something that arises regularly when discussing difficulties with child arrangements and co-parenting issues post separation, albeit true parental alienation remains a relatively rare phenomenon and what most parents are actually talking about is high-level conflict with the other parent or implacable hostility.

So what is parental alienation?
The term ‘parental alienation’ is not very well defined, in fact there is no single or fixed definition. In essence, it is the concept of a child rejecting a parent with whom they have previously had a positive relationship, seemingly without good reason. Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) define parental alienation as “when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

Parental alienation is therefore the process of psychologically manipulating a child into showing fear, disrespect, anger, or hostility towards a parent with the alienating parent’s aim being to exclude the other parent from the child’s life. It is characterised by the child showing extreme negativity towards the alienated parent.

What are the potential warning signs of parental alienation?
• Your child starts to criticise you unfairly without evidence or justification.
• Your child suddenly refuses to see or speak to you for no apparent reason, particularly where there has been no trigger event.
• Your child appears to only hold negative feelings towards you and does not seem able to see any positives in your relationship.
• Your child claims that their criticism of you is as a result of their own thinking when it is clear that their ideas have been fed to them by the alienating parent.
• Your child shows no remorse after telling you they hate you.
• Your child is also directing negative feelings or hatred towards other family members, like grandparents on your side of the family.

What can I do if I suspect my ex-partner of parental alienation?
If you suspect parental alienation, it is important to seek early legal advice. It may be necessary to make an application to the Court under the Children Act 1989 for a Child Arrangements Order. The Court will need to distinguish whether the alienation comes directly from the child or from the influence and manipulation of the other parent. It is common for a fact-finding hearing to take place to establish the factual matrix of the case before Cafcass are directed to write a Section 7 report. A Section 7 report will involve both parents and the child being spoken to separately, along with any other relevant parties, for example other key family members or the child’s school.

Cafcass will assess the child and identify any alienating behaviours. The Section 7 report will report the outcome of the assessment and provide recommendations as to the next step. In very serious cases of parental alienation, the Court may decide that a child should be removed from the care of the alienating parent and placed with the alienated parent to prevent further emotional harm to the child.

As children get older, their views are given increasing weight by the Court. Where an older child has clearly expressed their wishes not to see the other parent, the Court must carefully explore the basis of this resistance before overriding it. In other words, establish whether it has come from the child’s independent thoughts or through manipulation by the resident parent.

The Court will always make its decision with careful reference to the Welfare Checklist found under Section 1 (3) of Children Act 1989:
• The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned while considering the understanding and age of the child.
• The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.
• The likely effect on the child if circumstances are changed as a result of the Court’s decision.
• The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the Court’s decision.
• Any harm the child has suffered or may be suffering.
• Capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the Court finds relevant) at meeting the child’s needs.
• The powers available to the Court in the given proceedings.

Early assessment of allegations, prompt intervention and careful consideration of the wishes and feelings of the child are key in cases where parental alienation is suspected. The Family Department at Dean Wilson LLP is highly experienced and able to call on a wealth of other professionals such as family consultants, to assist in cases of this nature.

Dean Wilson LLP’s reputation has been built upon our ability to deliver and exceed our clients’ expectations. For over 100 years our success has been founded upon our client focused approach, backed by the knowledge and expertise of our lawyers.

As an ABC reader you can call the Family Department on 01273 249200 to arrange a no obligation telephone discussion and, if required, a fixed-fee meeting.