What is Parental Alienation?
An issue commonly raised in the Family Court is that of parental alienation. But what exactly is it and what forms does it take?
Parental alienation is usually characterised as one parent manipulating a child against the other. This can result in a once loving relationship between a parent and child breaking down and, if the issues are not addressed, the child could eventually suffer serious emotional harm.
Parental alienation can take many forms, including but not limited to:-
- Preventing contact, both direct and indirect;
- Denigrating the other parent to the child;
- Undermining the other parent and/or preventing them from exercising their parental responsibility by failing to consult with them on important welfare decisions; and
- Persuading the child that their other parent does not love them, or that they are to blame for the family break-up.
Parental alienation is not always intentional: for example, one parent may have concerns about the other parent’s ability to care for their child and genuinely believe that they are acting in that child’s best interests by preventing contact, or refusing to allow the other parent to be involved in important welfare decisions. However, unless there is a very good reason not to allow contact, such as a serious welfare concern, the position of the Court will always be that a child has a right to a full relationship with both parents.
What can I do if I believe my child is being alienated from me?
Parental alienation is a complex issue that must be acted upon as soon as it becomes apparent. If left too late, a child may become hostile to the idea of spending any time with their other parent, making it extremely difficult to reverse any damage that has been done.
An application should be made to the Family Court to determine what the arrangements for the child should be. During this process, the Court will direct Cafcass (the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to carry out a welfare investigation. Cafcass will endeavour to ascertain the child’s genuine wishes and feelings to determine whether or not they have been subjected to any influence. If Cafcass are concerned that parental alienation is, or might be, occurring, they may recommend that a child should be joined to the proceedings as a party, and appointed a Guardian, who will become their voice in the proceedings. Cafcass could also recommend a psychological assessment of the family, in the hope of getting to the root cause of the problem.
In serious cases of alienation, where a parent repeatedly frustrates or ignores orders for contact, the Court may determine that the only solution is for the child to live with their other parent. The Court will only want to take such drastic action, however, if all other options have been explored with no success.
If you are being denied contact, or prevented from taking an active role in your child’s life, it is important that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.