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Parental alienation is where one parent poisons their child against the other parent.
It is not a recognised syndrome in England and Wales, however it is accepted that where there is a hostile separation one parent can act in a way that alienates a child from the other parent.
It is always best for parents to try and manage their separation in a way that prevents difficulties arising. Using professionals such as family consultants, therapists, mediators and/or an arbitrator can help parents achieve this. However, unfortunately in some cases where serious steps of alienation present themselves, court proceedings may be necessary sooner rather than later as the longer matters are left the more risk there is for irrevocable emotional damage to be caused to the child and their relationship with their family.
Courts are starting to be more rigorous when it comes to the case management of uncooperative parents, to try and limit children from the toxic conflict that can arise in lengthy court processes.
Concerns of parental alienation arise where a child does not want to spend time with a parent yet there is no obvious or logical reason as to why they don’t want to see their parent.
In some cases a parent can be constantly criticizing the other parent in front of the child to turn them against their other parent. Parental alienation can, however, also be very subtle and it is not always deliberate.
It can be difficult to identify what the child’s actual beliefs are, as they become so heavily aligned with the parent who is causing the alienation.
The impact of alienation on a child is devastating, as is the impact on the parent the child is being isolated from – as well as the wider family. A child’s development can be adversely affected as a result.
If court proceedings are issued the court have the power to order what is called ?contact activity directions. A typical contact activity direction may require one or both parents to attend programmes, classes or counselling sessions devised to assist in establishing maintaining or improving contact with the child. For instance the Separated Parents Information Programme is a course which helps parents understand how to put their child first while separating, even though they may be in dispute with the child’s other parent. The course helps parents learn the fundamental principles of how to manage conflict and difficulties.
The court can order for CAFCASS – the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – to carry out a report. However, due to lack of resources and time restraints the reporting CAFCASS officer may not be able to get to the root of the problem.
In some cases where there is concern that the emotional harm being caused to a child is significant, a guardian can be appointed. A guardian in this context is a professional who has a duty to safeguard the interests of the child within the court proceedings. Once appointed the guardian will instruct a solicitor to represent the child, provide appropriate advice to the child, provide a report to the Court on how the child’s interests may best be safeguarded and act as a ‘voice’ for the child in the proceedings.
Another option can be for an independent social worker to be instructed to spend some time with the family and use social work methods to try and help. They may not however have the necessary mental health background needed to work out why one parent is unable to give emotional permission to the child to have a continuing relationship with the other parent and whether there are actually issues with the other parent as to why the child doesn’t want to spend time with them.
It can be extremely helpful for experts in the field to be instructed to carry out comprehensive assessments followed by targeted therapy. However, whether this is possible depends on willingness of both parents to engage with the idea and fund the costs of obtaining the support. Although if a court orders for such assessments to be carried out and a parent refuses to cooperate inferences can be drawn from that.
Parental alienation is a difficult subject and one which has serious implications for the child and parent impacted. We are seeing an increase in the number of divorce and separation cases where parental alienation is a factor, and seeking advice from an expert early is often the best way to resolve and stop it happening.