Update on the Court’s Approach to Parental Alienation - Family Law Partners

Update on the Court’s Approach to Parental Alienation

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Parental Alienation Awareness Day (PAAD) is held on the 25 April each year as part of a global campaign to raise awareness, educate, and campaign about parental alienation.

In this blog we provide a summary update of the development of the court’s approach to parental alienation since last year’s blog to mark PAAD 2022.  For further information please see my blog on this topic from last year.

How does the Court measure parental alienation behaviours?

Early identification of parental alienation is crucial to prevent a child’s views becoming entrenched and significant damage being done to parent-child relationships. However, whilst case law has provided a helpful indication of behaviours that could constitute parental alienation, the issue of measuring these behaviours remains a difficult question to answer. Ultimately, whether a finding of parental alienation is made often comes down to the strength of evidence provided by the party seeking the finding.

The route often undertaken to assist in building a parental alienation case is to appoint an expert to work with the child and parents to give their expert opinion on the circumstances and whether alienating behaviours are at play. However, there currently exists no regulation in respect of what constitutes an “expert” for the purposes of giving expert evidence within family proceedings which was an issue addressed in the recent case, Re C (Parental Alienation) where the lack of regulation of involved experts in proceedings was discussed. Following a direction from an instructed psychologist that the mother had alienated the child from the father, the court accepted the opinion of psychologist and ordered that the children live with the father. The mother appealed on the basis that the psychologist was not suitably qualified to provide such expert evidence.

When considering the appeal, Sir Andrew McFarlane rejected all suggestions that the appeal should be used to determine whether the expert’s qualifications should be deemed unsuitable to act as an expert. Further, Sir McFarlane directed that the focus of such proceedings should be towards the “behaviour that is found to have taken place” and the “impact that that behaviour may have had on the relationship of a child with either or both of his/her parents” rather than attempting to determine whether a diagnosis can be made by an expert.

Sir Andrew McFarlane found that assessing parental alienating behaviours was a matter for the psychological profession and, ultimately, Parliament, as to whether a tighter regime should be imposed.

Whether there is a need for greater stringency in the appointment of experts is another topic for discussion and one which guidance from the Family Justice system would no doubt be welcome but this case does highlight the importance of taking the time to identify the right expert in all matters.

To discuss your own unique situation with a specialist family solicitor, please contact us.

Kate Elliott, Director, Mediator and Family Law Solicitor and Grace Savage, Paralegal are part of our Horsham team of specialist solicitors.

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