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    Parental Alienation: An Overview

    Pauline Lewis
    Post by Pauline Lewis
    March 13, 2024
    Parental Alienation: An Overview

    Family breakdown in the UK has reached epidemic proportions. The family courts are bursting at the seams with parents seeking family justice, especially for their children. The issue that is at the forefront following family breakdown is how to best protect and serve the children. This can only be done if what is being inflicted on the child can be identified and addressed. Children are often suffering from the alienating behaviours of one parent against another parent in family breakdown.

    Parental Alienation is the continual imposition on a child of a negative view of their other parent who is usually absent. It is damaging to the relationship between the child and their absent parent and can have far-reaching consequences for the child.

    It is a form of domestic abuse.

    Early Judgment

    It is important to identify whether parental alienation is taking place and address it quickly. Failure to do so, may result in irreversibly damaging the relationship between the child and the alienated parent. The systematic and continued denigration of the absent parent creates a barrier in the mind of the child which is hard, if not impossible, to remove. The sooner it can be identified, the higher the chance that the child can be protected from forming this kind of mental barrier. From a practical point of view for practitioners, the following can be taken into account:

    1. Procedural early determination is needed whenever a family in distress comes before the court.
    2. Early advice can be provided by local authorities, who can offer non-mandatory guidance to alienating parents on how to communicate with their child about the other parent. Often, alienating parents are unaware of the seriousness of their behaviour and may not even realize that they are alienating the other parent. Early education is crucial to introduce the concept and help them identify their actions.
    3. Parents who recognise that they have a problem and take steps to address it should be acknowledged for their positive efforts. Recognising and participating in a postitive resolution should be helpful to all parties in later proceedings. Credit may then be given to the participating parent in later proceedings should matters progress further.
    4. Mediation is something that should be offered early as it will help to identify issues.
    5. Where parental alienation is alleged and experts are likely to be needed, then agreed Joint Experts should be appointed as early as possible.

    [Re A (Children) (Parental alienation) [2019] EWFC]

    Expert Witnesses

    The Family Justice Council have published interim guidance on parental alienation. This includes guidance in relation to expert witnesses. Impartiality is important because expert witnesses are able to give advice on therapy which should be sought or practical routes that should be followed. If the expert witness has an interest in the course of treatment or route they recommend should be taken, then the issue of a conflict of interest would arise. In such cases any conflict should be declared. This is the expert’s duty to the court.

    The Consequences

    The consequences of parental alienation are far reaching. It does not only extend to the relationship between the child and the alienated parent but it affects the child’s relationship with his wider family – grand-parents, uncles and aunts etc.. It will also have a long-term affect on the child’s ability to form relationships.

    Many alienated mothers and alienated fathers have lost their children and the consequences flowing from that can be devastating for the alienated parent and worse for the alienated child victim. This raises the question of why should children suffer harm as a result of his parents’ relationships breakdown?

    Parental Alienation is widely recognised even beyond the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Baroness Catherine Mayer, House of Lords, said, “Children suffer greatly from their parents' separation, but when their parents start arguing about money and contact rights, they find themselves in an impossible situation. The only thing they realise is that there is a state of war between the two people they need and love most.

    Then, as so often happens if one parent begins the process of denigrating the other parent they are further confused, distressed and angry.

    Under normal circumstances, a child’s opinion should be taken seriously, but it is imperative to establish whether it is the child’s own view or the result of deliberate indoctrination by one of his or her parent before any decisions are made.

    What greater psychological harm, what more intolerable situation could there be for a child, than to carry the main burden of responsibility in adult court proceedings for deciding between mother and father? Asking a child to choose between parents is a form of child abuse.”

    Definition of Domestic Abuse

    It is not the intention of this article to explore domestic abuse under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 generally. This article is concerned with parental alienation. It is worth explaining, however, the definition of domestic abuse under the Act.

    This is contained in section 1 (2) as “Behaviour of a person (“A”) towards another person (“B”) is “domestic abuse” if –

    A) A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personlly connected to each other and

    the behaviour is abusive

    B) Section 1(3) defines behaviour as abusive if it consists of any of the following:

    1. physical or sexual abuse;
    2. violent or threatening behaviour
    3. controlling or coercive behaviour
    4. economic abuse, psychological, emotional or other abuse. The abuse may be a single incident or a course of behaviour.

    A child is included as a victim where there is any reference in the Act to a victim of domestic abuse if that child s.3(2) (a) sees or hears or experiences the effects of the abuse and (b) is related to A or B

    Parental alienation can take the form of manipulation, coercive control, emotional abuse or any of the forms defined above. It can sometimes be subtle. What is new in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is that children are recognised as victims in their own right with the right to be protected from coercive control, in whatever way that control shows itself. If it shows itself through parental alienation, then a child can and should be protected by this legislation. This legislation makes it a premise that “Parental alienation is abusive to victim parents and their children”.

    Parental Alienation – Moving Forward

    As mentioned above, in cases where parental alienation is raised or identified, it is desirable for it to be addressed as early as possible. The preferred result is for parents who are alienating the child against the other parent to recognise their behaviour and start working on redressing it. Professionals should receive training on how to work with an alienating parent to reverse the negative effect they are having on their children and the other parent. Expert witnesses have an invaluable role to play in sharing their knowledge and experience and helping others address alienating behaviours. It is envisaged as awareness grows that education and courses in this field will become available so that parents who do recognise the damaging nature of what they are doing, as well as those parents who do not recognise it but need to work on it, will get the resources they need to stem this damaging and toxic behaviour which all children and society as a whole have the right to be protected from.

    Pauline Lewis
    Post by Pauline Lewis
    March 13, 2024