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Parental Alienation: Courts may take children away from parents who badmouth the other

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The term “Parental Alienation” is now firmly on the Family Court’s radar and tough new measures are planned to combat it.

Parental alienation refers to a process where one parent attempts to turn a child against the other, usually with the goal of creating a rift where the child no longer wants to see that parent. The Children and Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) believe that parental alienation affects a significant proportion of the children cases that they deal with, and that measures need to be taken to ensure that such cases are identified, understood and handled appropriately.

From Spring 2018, Cafcass have announced that they will be piloting a “High Conflict Pathway” for cases where relations between litigating parents are particularly acrimonious. The objective of this pathway is to provide practitioners with the guidance, research and tools to ensure “an effective evidence based approach” is used for high conflict cases.

To assist Cafcass officers identify high conflict cases where parental alienation may be present, a list of ten indicators has been produced. These indicators include “the child describes one parent entirely negatively, the other entirely positively” and “the child proffers the opinion of wanting less contact with one parent in a way which requires little or no prompting”. It is hoped that the use and consideration of these indicators will create a more cohesive approach to high conflict cases.

Perhaps the most important element of the framework is the proposition of the alienating parent being enrolled in an intensive course of therapy to give them guidance on how to change their behaviour. It is understood that in serious cases, where the alienating parent does not engage or improve their behaviour, the consequences could be that the children will no longer be able to live with them.

At this point in time, it is unclear as to how Cafcass’ new framework will be rolled out and implemented across the regions. However, an increased recognition of parental alienation as a serious and emotionally harmful practice is a promising step forward. The implementation of the new pathway may provide alienated parents with more confidence in issuing Court proceedings, a confidence which they may currently lack if they feel that their child does not want to have contact with them.

If you would like any further advice regarding this, or any other, family law issue please contact a member of our specialist Family Law Team.