Parental alienation

Parental alienation in the news again

Posted by
James Harbottle
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Parental alienation in the news again

Lauren Preedy - Senior Associate Solicitor - Head of Divorce and Relationships Team
Lauren Preedy – Senior Associate Solicitor – Head of Divorce and Relationships Team

The difficult subject of parental alienation has been back in the news this week, featuring both in a television documentary and a national newspaper opinion piece.

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the term, parental alienation has been defined (by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’)) as follows:

“When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

In simple terms, one parent, usually the one with whom the child lives, turns the child against the other parent.


Response to abuse?

Sadly, allegations of parental alienation are not uncommon in disputes between parents over arrangements for their children. One particular situation highlighted in the news is as follows:

The child lives with the mother and the father applies to the court for contact. The mother alleges that she has been subjected to domestic abuse by the father, as a result of which the child does not wish to see him, and the father responds by alleging that the mother has alienated the child against him.

Needless to say, the whole issue of parental alienation has led to considerable debate amongst lawyers and other experts. Some are even suggesting that the very idea of parental alienation is ‘bogus’, used merely as a means for perpetrators of abuse to gain access to their victims.Parental alienation

Part of the problem may simply be the use of that label ‘parental alienation’, which seems to raise the whole idea of a parent influencing a child (whether knowingly or not) into something far more sinister and pre-planned than it may actually be.

And it is of course likely to be the case that a child who has witnessed their mother being abused by their father may be afraid of spending time with their father, so it may be natural for a father, in denial of abuse, to believe that the mother has turned the child against him.

Whether the allegation of parental alienation is true or not, the upshot will be that the mother will find herself in the extremely unpleasant and stressful position of having to defend the allegation in court. And in extreme cases, as the documentary pointed out, if the court finds that the mother has repeatedly alienated the child against the father then it can order that the child be removed from the mother and placed with the father.

Obviously, if the mother is ‘innocent’ then this will be a serious miscarriage of justice, both in the outcome and in the process that the mother will have endured.


Dealing with alienation allegationsParental alienation

The makers of the documentary and the writer of the opinion piece are clearly of the view that the present system is in serious need of reform. But what is the answer?

The problem, of course, is that sometimes domestic abuse allegations are invented or exaggerated, and the court does not know the truth until it has investigated the allegations. The court cannot simply presume someone ‘guilty’ of domestic abuse simply upon the basis of untested allegations.

Similarly, it may well be true that it is relatively rare for a court to find that a parent has alienated a child against the other parent, but it does happen, and to effectively have a presumption that any parental alienation allegation is likely to be false would be a very dangerous thing.

So we are left with a system that is required to examine any serious allegations made by either parent, and decide who is telling the truth. Clearly, there may be room to improve the system, but that basic requirement must surely remain.

Meanwhile, if you believe that your child has been alienated against you, or if the other parent is alleging that you have alienated your child against them, then you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer.

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