Parental Alienation – a new Buzz Word?
This is the term applied where one parent turns a child against the other parent so that the child does not want to see that other parent.
Children usually do not want to alienate the parent with whom they are living with at the time. It can be difficult for a child therefore express to his or her true wishes and feelings. However, if children are asked, when they are older/adult, how they would have liked their parents to behave towards each other, research suggests that the response would be – “I would have wanted my parents to be as amicable as possible to each other.”
Often parents can’t put the needs of their children to have a positive relationship with their former partner before their own needs/wishes. And this is even more difficult for a parent where there has been domestic abuse in the relationship.
The Court in children proceedings have to consider (when making a decision) what the wishes and feelings of the children are – but this can be difficult for children to express for fear of “come backs” from either or both parent. Perhaps too much weight in the past has been given to a child’s wishes and feelings? Sometimes in life children have to do what they don’t want to do – such as wear a seat belt or go to school.
Mediation can be a way for children to express what they want in a safe environment with both parents agreeing as part of the process that the children will not be questioned about what they say (to the mediator).
It is now considered abusive to expose children to parental conflict but we have not got to the stage of other countries such as Brazil where it is a criminal offence.
Sometimes it is difficult to identify that parental alienation is taking place. This is not helped by the fact that legal aid is very limited and it is difficult for parents with limited finances to access both experts (usually psychologists) and solicitors who have the necessary understanding and experience of parental alienation.
The Court’s approach is to try everything in its power to promote contact to ensure that a child has a significant relationship with both parents – provided that this is safe. The Court has to identify what the realistic options are, with a marked preference for some options, over others.
These options are…
- A complete bar on contact
- An order preventing a parent making applications to the Court in relation to their child(ren) – a Section 91 (14) order for a period of time – which should be for the minimum period the Court considers appropriate in the circumstances of the individual case.
- An order for indirect contact – significant or just for key events during a child’s year eg Christmas and birthday
- An order for direct contact – visiting, staying or both
- Transfer of the children’s home from the parent who is alienating the children to the other parent
- An adjournment for further investigations/assessments
- Removal of the child(ren) into foster care – to allow for a period of assessment
This is a complex area of the law where usually dispute resolution is not available – because of the difficult/heightened emotions within the family. Often these proceedings come to the attention of the Court through referrals from the Local Authority because the children are suffering emotional harm. Sometimes a child(ren) becomes a Ward of Court – for the Court to make decisions about the upbringing of their ward – as the parents are unable to exercise parental responsibility themselves.
As a specialist firm of family solicitors Harney & Wells have significant experience in this complex area – so please contact us through our website or on our general office number of 01273 684666.