Parental alienation has been described by Parliament as ‘the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other parent’. This occurs when the resident parent undermines the other parent and makes derogatory comments to the child about the non-resident parent, actively prevents contact from occurring or makes excuses for why contact cannot take place, to name a few examples.
Parental alienation is a relatively recent concept recognised by the Court and other professionals such as Cafcass and Social Services. Mrs Justice Parker commented in her judgement of Re H  EWCA Civ 733:
“I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enourmous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional.”
Despite now being recognised as occurring in a significant number of cases, it is difficult to assess. A child may generally appear happy and looked after by the resident parent to an outsider, rather than displaying signs of emotional harm. We will often see the resident parent arguing that the persistent attempts to initiate contact by professionals is extremely disruptive to the child and is in fact adversely affecting them.
As parental alienation is often not recognised during the early stages of proceedings, all too often the non-resident parent will be awarded indirect or no contact with the child. This is on the premise that to award direct contact with the child would in fact cause them more harm at this stage than it would benefit the child.
On the other hand, if a parent is labelled from the outset of proceedings as alienating their child from the non-resident parent then this can be equally as damaging to the progress of the case. In this instance, it can often become the norm that any action or inaction on behalf of that parent would be argued as alienation or them trying to manipulate the contact/issues before the Court. For example, the resident parent may have unavoidably been unable to make the meeting point for contact however the non-resident parent would argue that this was done on purpose to reinforce their position. The resident parent is likely to then disengage with the proceedings due to having a label attached to their every move. It essentially becomes a case of your damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
It is estimated that 11% – 15% of divorces involving children have an element of parental alienation. Parental alienation is measured on a spectrum from mild to extreme. In the UK, the onus of recognising alienation is on CAFCASS caseworkers and they must identify the same on a case by case basis. Inevitably cases will be missed and can often lead to a child permanently losing contact with their non-resident parent.
In an attempt to combat this increasing issue of parental alienation, CAFCASS caseworkers will be given a set of guidelines, known as ‘high conflict pathway’ which they will be able to follow. This provides caseworker with a step by steps guide outlining the steps they should take when dealing with alleged alienation. Parents will first and foremost be given the opportunity to change their behaviour using an intense therapy. Cafcass have developed a 12 week programme called ‘positive parenting’ to assist with this. Those parents that do not engage with the programme could see their contact restricted, refused for a set period or their child removed from their care and placed with the non-resident parent.
The trial is set to begin in spring 2018 with 50 high conflict families. The outcome of the trial will then be evaluated and made available nationwide. However if the trial is not successful, other professionals such as mental health experts and psychiatrists may be asked to intervene with the family and if the problem persist, contact between the parent and the child could be limited or suspended.
If you are experiencing any difficulties in respect of contact with your children, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us. Our expert team headed by Pauline McNamara is on hand to help you through this difficult time. Contact us today for your first free initial consultation on 0151 375 9968 or email .