Parental alienation following separation and divorce

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The breakdown of a relationship will always pose emotional and logistical challenges when children are involved. When separation occurs, the Court’s starting point is that children should spend time with both parents unless there are welfare or safeguarding concerns. Unfortunately, this starting point may be difficult to achieve where parental alienation has taken place.

What is parental alienation?

The term ‘parental alienation’ has become increasingly recognised in recent years. Whilst no single definition of the term exists, it can broadly be described as a process whereby one parent deliberately alienates their children from the other parent. The Children and Family Courts Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) recognise 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 comes in many forms. However, common examples include one parent limiting the children’s contact time with the other, badmouthing or criticising the other parent in front of the children, and telling the children that the other parent does not love them.

The Court’s approach

In England and Wales, the Court’s starting point when resolving children matters is that children should spend time with both parents. However, where parental alienation has taken place, this can be difficult to implement, because the children may demonstrate resistance or hostility towards a parent. In circumstances where such resistance is due to parental alienation, the Court will take a robust approach to reversing the alienation and preventing further alienation from taking place.

The case of W v G [2015] EW Misc B47 (CC) concerned two children, aged four and five. The mother was found to have emotionally abused the children by deliberately denigrating the father to the children and devaluing his presence in their lives; there was clear evidence of significant parental alienation. The Court responded by making a Child Arrangements Order for the children to live with the father and have contact with the mother.

It is clear, therefore, that the Court will take a robust approach where parental alienation has taken place and go to significant lengths to reverse that alienation.

Dealing with parental alienation

If you are concerned that parental alienation may be happening to you and your children, you should raise your concerns with a professional advisor. If CAFCASS is involved in your case, you should discuss your concerns with the allocated Family Court Advisor so that these can be considered as part of their case assessment. You should also inform your solicitor as a matter of urgency, so they can advise you and raise any concerns you may have with the Court so that they can be considered by a judge.

If you’d like any further information or need family advice, please don’t hesitate to contact a member of our Family Team.

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