Kate Stovold explores the issue of parental alienation and its assessment by the Court.
- Relationship breakdown has ramifications not only for the couple but also any children of the family. Unfortunately, there are times when children can be caught in the middle of the conflict, and when the animosity between parents is especially high, there can be more serious consequences including one parent actively denying the other parent their relationship with their child(ren).
- When parents separate and need to discuss the arrangements for their children, the starting point is enshrined in the primary piece of legislation relating to children is the Children Act 1989 and it includes, at s.1(2A), a presumption that the involvement of both parents in the life of the child will further that child’s welfare (unless the contrary can be shown, for example in the event of drug and alcohol abuse).
- An unjustified denial of contact by one parent of the other is often referred to as parental alienation and / or implacable hostility.
- In October 2018, CAFCASS* published a new assessment framework to support Family Court Advisers, known as the Child Impact Assessment Framework. Promotion of an understanding of the issue of parental alienation is a focus.
* CAFCASS is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and represents the child in Court proceedings concerning children. On their website CAFCASS say that “we put children’s needs, wishes and feelings first, making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting, and that decisions are made in their best interests. Operating within the law set by Parliament (Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000) and under the rules and directions of the family courts, we are independent of the courts, social services, education and health authorities and all similar agencies.”
- CAFCASS recognises 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.”
- CAFCASS identifies the following as features of parental alienation:
- The child’s opinion of a parent is unjustifiably one sided, all good or bad; idealises one parent and devalues the other;
- Trivial, false, weak and / or irrational reasons to justify dislike or hatred;
- Vilification of rejected parent;
- Reactions and perceptions are disproportionate to the parent’s behaviour;
- Extends dislike / hatred to extended family or rejected parent.
These are but some examples.
- Family Court Advisers are encouraged to assess the wishes and feelings of the child concerned, with this assessment reflecting on the reasons for the resistance or refusal to spend time with the other parent.
- Following an assessment by a Family Court Adviser, recommendations are made to the Court with a focus on the child and how the situation can be improved for them.
- Recommendations to the Court can include:
- Therapeutic treatment for the child; and
- The appointment of a guardian so that the child can be separately represented in the proceedings.
- A change of residence, in the more severe cases of parental alienation.
Should you need any advice in relation to child arrangements or if you have concerns about potential parental alienation, please contact Kate Stovold or another member of the LMP team.