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Alison Fielden & Co: Parental Alienation

Nov 2020 Article

Parental alienation refers to a process in which a parent, commonly the one with the day-to-day care duties for the child, acts or speaks in a way without legitimate justification that causes the child to not want to maintain a relationship with the other parent.

The legal and practical issues arising from parental alienation have come under review in recent years.

Unfortunately, parental alienation is a concern amongst many separating families, and the court is increasingly having to tackle the issue and take effective action.

Cafcass is the Children and Family Courts Advice and Support Service. They are involved in providing reports to the Court in more complex family cases. The Cafcass definition of Parental Alienation suffices for working purposes: “When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.” That manipulation need not be malicious or deliberate.

The recent judgement of Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult) [2020] EWCA Civ 568 provides that if orders are required, the court can consider a fundamental revision of the child arrangements, which is not a last resort; the judge must consider all the circumstances and choose the right solution, taking a medium to long term view and not according excessive weight to short-term problems.

It also states that the court must respond to alienation with exceptional diligence; the situation calls for judicial resolve. It is not necessary to wait for serious or irreparable harm to have occurred before taking action and provides a useful warning on the impact delayed proceedings will have on parental alienation being further ingrained and too late to reverse.

The case of Re H (Parental Alienation) in 2019highlights the trauma children can suffer from being alienated from a parent, and the drastic measures the Court will take to ensure that a child’s welfare interests are met.

The case involved an application made by the father of a 12 year old boy for a change of residence on the basis that his mother was demonstrating alienating behaviours towards the father.

The parents of the child had been separated for many years, and up until early 2018, the child had enjoyed regular contact with his father and his paternal family. However, since the parent’s separation in 2007, there were continuous court proceedings in respect of the child, and many attempts by the mother to frustrate the father’s contact with the child, including making allegations of domestic abuse against the father, that were dismissed.

In and around May 2018, direct contact with the father stopped, and it became apparent from the dramatic change in the child’s messages to his father that he was reflecting the mother’s conflictual relationship with the father, and was prioritising her needs above his own.

Upon hearing the evidence, including that of an expert in the field of parental alienation, the Judge found that the mother had alienated the child from his father and accepted the child was “triangulated within his parents conflictual relationship” and that “therapeutic intervention aimed at restoring his relationship with his father whilst in the care of his mother was ill advised”.

On this basis, the Judge made a child arrangements order for a change of residence, and placed a three month embargo on the mother’s direct contact. Although the Judge recognised that a change of residence would cause the child distress, this, in comparison to the trauma he was suffering from the alienation of his father, would be of short duration.

In his judgement, the Judge recognised the traumas and harm children suffer as a result of alienation and deemed that if the child’s alienation from his father continued, this could damage his mental and emotional wellbeing, including among other behavioural issues such as:

  • Poor self-esteem or inflated self-confidence;
  • An inability to form meaningful and positive relationships;
  • Depression and anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; and
  • Identify diffusion or identity crises.

This case demonstrates the need to be live to the issue of parental alienation, and the repercussions it can have on a child, if left undetected. Not only does Re H highlight the need to carefully consider the facts of each case where parental alienation may be an issue, but also the need to consider expert opinion from a trained professional.

Heather Weavill and Steven Barratt at Alison Fielden and Co. Solicitors have many years of experience dealing with children cases.

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