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Parental Alienation Cases

The concept of parental alienation is receiving much media attention, and the approach by Family Courts in England and Wales is still evolving.

Identifying Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation is a form of psychological manipulation by one parent which interferes with, and damages, a childs relationship with the other parent. It does not include the type of alienation that may occur as a result of an estranged parents own prior actions, for example, abuse, violence or prolonged absence from the childs life, 

There are several factors which may assist in identifying whether parental alienation is taking place. 

First, the alienated parent should have had a normal, healthy and positive relationship with their child previously as subsequent gradual or sudden rejecting behaviours by the child towards that parent can be a sign that dysfunctional behaviour is taking place. 

Second, signs of alienating behaviours to be aware of can include:

  • Regularly criticising the other parent in the presence of the child.
  • Interfering with the quality or quantity of the other parents time with the child. 
  • Destroying gifts or physical memories from the other parent.
  • Confiding in the child about the problems with the past relationship in order to win their loyalty.
  • Making the lived-with parents love dependent on loyalty to that parent (making the child choose between parents).
  • Excluding the other parent and related extended family from major events in the childs life. 
  • Changing the childs name. 

Finally, another sign of parental alienation is when a child uses rejecting words or reasoning that are out-of-character and, therefore, clearly influenced by the behaviour of the other parent. It may also be a sign where the total rejection of the parent by the child is disproportionate to the reasons given for that rejection.

How to approach parental alienation legally 

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 came into force in April 2021, and includes in the definition for domestic abuse (regardless of whether it is a single incident or course of conduct) "controlling or coercive behaviour". Therefore, although not defined as such, parental alienation is a form of domestic abuse.

There is no legal definition for the term and, although included in earlier draft versions, the term is not included in the statutory guidance for the Domestic Abuse Act. The term parental alienation is controversial, and has stirred up considerable debate. There are those that consider these claims as attempts by previously abusive fathers to regain access to their children. On the other hand, it is argued that parental alienation is not a gender issue, can happen to mothers and fathers, and is the alienation that happens in the absence of domestic abuse and other harmful parenting. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) provide useful guidance and definitions for practitioners.

In any case involving allegations of parental alienation, an early fact finding hearing should be arranged to assess whether the allegations made are true, on the balance of probabilities. Subsequently, it may be necessary to arrange professional expert evidence to support any claim. 

The Courts approach to parental alienation cases

There is no one-size-fits-all approach by the Court, and much will depend on the familys individual circumstances, on the severity of the alleged alienating behaviours taking place, and on the available evidence. Reliable professional expert evidence will be very beneficial for the party bringing the claim. The child may be ordered as a party to proceedings, and allocated a guardian in order that their best interests can be considered independently. If there are significant concerns for their welfare, the Local Authority may be asked to consider whether care proceedings should be issued. Recent case law suggests that the Courts are willing to order a transfer of residence in cases of severe parental alienation.

Orders that can be implemented 

The court can order both parents not to speak negatively about each other to their child/children. Other available orders that can be made include:

  • A Child Arrangement(s) Order: concerning where the child lives, with whom, and what other contact takes place. 
  • A Prohibited Steps Order: preventing one-sided decision-making about the childs upbringing.
  • A Specific Issue Order: concerning specific issues about the childs upbringing, for example, where they will go to school.
  • A Family Assistance Order: concerning specific help for the family in the form of social care if required e.g. from a local authority or from CAFCASS. 

Failing to adhere to a court order can have serious consequences for the parent involved including financial penalties, transferring the residence of the children (where relevant), or even imprisonment.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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