Parental alienation is sadly a hot topic at present in the family Courts and something Judges are having to face and adjudicate upon on a regular basis. These cases arise when a child is resisting or refusing to spend time with one parent after separation. There can be multiple reasons a child does not want to spend time with one parent for example if they have been a victim or witnessed domestic abuse or they feel a strong attachment to one parent but the focus of this article is parental alienation.
Parental alienation is recognised as a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent being unjustified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. Behaviours can include:-
- Negative portrayal of the other parent
- focusing on mistakes the other parent has made and how the child must be disappointed in them
- questioning the child upon return
- criticising decisions of the other parent and saying or implying the other parent places the child at risk of harm.
C v D 
In a recent case C v D (private law – domestic abuse – parental alienation)  EWFC B60 (30 July 2021) examples of parental alienation were: changing the children’s school several times without consulting the other parent, asking the children lots of questions on return from contact, sharing information with the children about that parent’s experience with the other parent and calling the police to check up on the other parent.
Although the parent suffering from alienation in this case was found to be the perpetrator of domestic abuse, the Court held that the benefits of the children having a relationship with their father far outweighed any risk he may pose them. The Court ordered two overnight stays per week with extended periods during the school holidays.
How are these cases dealt with?
Cafcass, the Courts Advisory Service for Children, will first identify the risk. If this risk is high, this could result in a child protection issue and the local authority may become involved. Cafcass will prepare a report where they will investigate the matter in detail and speak to the parents, usually review the contact with each parent and the child, speak to the child’s school and other caregivers and the child themselves (if they are of a suitable age to express their wishes and feelings). Cafcass will include recommendations at the end of the report as to the child arrangements going forward and whether they do believe there has been parental alienation.
A guardian is often appointed to represent a child during these cases, and they will have separate legal representation. This is to ensure that the child is not being unduly influenced by one parent or the other and essentially to ensure that the child’s best interests are being presented to the Court without influence from a party with a vested interest.
Psychological assessments may also be required of the child and either one or both parents depending on the allegations raised. These assessments can determine whether the child has suffered emotional harm and explore why the child is feeling hostile towards one parent.
Assessment upon parents can determine whether there are signs of parental alienation and if so, what can be done about that.
These cases are usually traumatic for everyone involved and take a significant amount of time to resolve.
Often the alienating parent believes they are doing this to protect the child when in reality they can be causing them long term emotional harm.
What must be remembered is section 1 (2A) of the Children Act 1989 – “unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of [each] parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.”It is also worth noting that there have been recent cases whereby the children are removed from the alienating parent to live with the alienated parent. This has occurred in cases when the children would even refuse to speak with or see the alienated parent. The consensus in these tricky cases (where thorough investigation has concluded that there has been alienation and there is no reason why the children cannot spend time with the alienated parent) is that whilst the move will be difficult for the children in the short term, in the longer term the child will likely have a much better relationship with both parents.
This is a cautionary tale and the reason why we signpost our clients for whatever emotional support they need to assist them with the family breakdown.
Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or any other family matter, then please do get in touch with a member of the team.