The BBC have reported that children have been forced into contact with fathers accused of abuse (including fathers who were convicted paedophiles). In all of these reported cases contained within the BBC’s investigation, the father had disputed parental alienation. The Government is now investigating whether further action needs to be taken regarding claims of alienation.
What is Parental Alienation?
There is no single definition of parental alienation, although Cafcass suggests that alienating behaviours are circumstances ‘where there is an ongoing pattern of negative attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of one parent (or carer) that have the potential of expressed intent to undermine or obstruct the child’s relationship with the other parent’.
Examples of Parental Alienation
- Denigrating the other parent in front of the child;
- Stopping the child or making the child feel that they should not see or spend time with the other parent;
- Refusing the other parent to be involved in the child’s life in relation to health and education;
- Disrupting, changing or interfering with the other parent’s designated time with the child, e.g. telephoning the child excessively or messaging them whilst they are in the care of the other parent.
What happens if Parental Alienation is found?
The child’s welfare is the Court’s paramount consideration. A close second to this is the parent whose relationship with the child may be or has been threatened.
If Parental Alienation is found, it is taken very seriously by the Court.
The Court may order a range of interventions to address the issue including:
- A Child Arrangement Order specifying the time the child should spend with each parent.
- A parenting plan or parenting classes for the alienating parent to encourage positive communication and a healthy co-parenting relationship.
- Counselling or therapy for the child to address any emotional harm caused by alienation.
- An Order prohibiting the alienating parent from making derogatory remarks about the other parent to the child (including the alienating parent giving an undertaking to the Court, which is a binding promise and is enforceable).
- An Order for the child to have contact with the non-resident parent in a neutral setting, such as a contact centre, to allow the relationship to be rebuilt in a safe environment.
It is important for the Court to consider the ‘No Order principle’ under Section 1(5) of the Children Act 1989 in that they should not make an Order unless to do so would be better for the child.
However, in extreme cases where the alienating behaviour is found to be severe or persistent, the Court may consider a change of residence for the child, to live with the non-alienating parent to protect the child’s welfare.
According to joint research conducted by Cafcass and Women’s Aid, domestic abuse allegations are made in two-thirds of family court cases, and it has been found that parental alienation allegations are five times more likely to be made against parents who said they were victims of domestic abuse. This research also provided that ‘Children who had experienced domestic abuse had strong views about contact’ and were less likely to want to have contact with the parent who had perpetrated domestic abuse.