What is Parental Alienation?
Parental Alienation is where a child is coerced, manipulated or otherwise pressurised to align themselves to one parent by the other. The child is subsequently turned against a parent and this can cause them to reject that parent.
There are a number of behaviours which can be displayed by a parent which can lead to parental alienation, examples include:
- Saying nasty things about the other parent in front of the child
- Making the child scared of one parent
- Not letting the child talk about what they have done with the other parent
- Putting a child in the middle, making them choose between one parent or the other
- Punishing a child if they ‘choose’ the other parent by not giving them the usual love and attention
- Failing to pass on letters/cards/gifts provided by the other parent
- Telling a child the other parent does not love them
- Failing to involve the other parent in activities such as parents’ evenings/sports days etc
How do I know it is Parental Alienation?
Parental alienation is often not obvious. Behaviours can be deliberate and apparent, but they can also be subtle and difficult for people, including ‘CAFCASS’ (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to spot.
Sometimes there are real reasons for one parent to object contact taking place for example: risk of harm to the child, a family emergency or the child being unwell.
What can the Court do if Parental Alienation is present?
This depends on whether there is a Contact Order already in place. If there is, and it is being breached, the other parent can seek to issue an application to enforce a contact order to try and facilitate contact. The court will consider- why is contact not happening? Are the reasons agreed or should there be a hearing to establish the facts? Do we need the advice of Cafcass?
Other powers of the court include (but are not limited to):
- Making an order for parents and/or child to undertake assessments e.g., psychological
- Making an order promoting contact
- Making an order that the parents and/or child should attend family therapy sessions
- Varying the original order to make it more defined and the terms more acceptable
- In a worst-case scenario, the court can order for a child to transfer primary care to the parent who is being alienated
It is important to note that the approach of the court is to work with the family and to avoid transferring primary care as a change in status quo can be traumatic for a child.
“It is important to act at an early stage if you believe you are at risk of parental alienation, you should seek expert advice to ascertain the appropriate next steps.” Amelia Fernley, Family Law Paralegal, Sinclair Law.
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