We know how upsetting it can be, when arrangements to spend time with your children are becoming difficult. This is especially so, when the other parent is doing or saying things to the children to change their view of you, or telling them untruths. Not only is this very hurtful, but also can potentially cause emotional harm to the children in the long term. When one parent encourages or influences a child to not spend time with the other parent without good reason, then this is known as ‘parental alienation’ a legal term used and defined as “…when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”.

How common is it?

Parental alienation is more common than you might think and like any behavior, there can be subtle or more extreme cases. However, what is clear is that parental alienation on any level impacts on the child’s relationship with the targeted parent. In less extreme cases, the parent alienating the child from the other parent might not actually be aware they are causing the harm, and influencing the child not to spend time with the other parent. Often the parent who is saying things to the children, are saying things out of hurt or anger to the other parent, without realising how their own opinions are in fact influencing how the child thinks about the other parent. However, over the long term, the child is drip fed often a bias view which causes emotional and psychological harm and can ultimately result in a child not wanting to spend time with the other parent. 

How does the court view Parental Alienation?

It is always presumed by the court that it is in the best interest of the child to have a relationship with both their parents.  Unless of course, there is a good reason why a child should not spend time with the other parent. Therefore, where there are no safety issues and the child is saying they do not want to spend time with the other parent this often rings alarm bells with the court and the court through Cafcass will investigate. Although Cafcass will initially speak with the child, and try to get to the bottom of any issues, the court will not always take the child’s view into account, because in parental alienation cases, their views will not be their own and will have been influenced by the alienating parent. 

How does the court deal with it?

If the court determines after investigating parental alienation, that one parent is alienating the child from the other. The court should then appoint a Guardian to represent the child in proceedings, to ensure that the child’s best interests are at the forefront of the courts mind. Usually, a Guardian is not necessary in children proceedings, as the court assumes that both parents will be acting in the best interests of the child, albeit with different views about how arrangements are organised. However, in parental alienation cases, the parents view is not child centered. 

Usually, the court will consider the wishes and feelings of the child when considering child arrangements, taking into account the age and understanding of the child. However, with cases of parental alienation, the court does not have to take into consideration the view of a child who is saying that they do not want to spend time with the other parent. This is because the child’s view has been manipulated by the other parent. 

The court has wide powers, particularly in parental alienation cases and could in extreme cases transfer where the child lives from the alienating parent to the other parent. However, careful consideration has to be given to this, often with the assistance of an expert child psychologist. As the court has to consider over everything else the welfare of the child, and how such a change might impact on them, even though it is clear the child is being alienated by the other parent. This can of course be very hard for the parent wanting to spend time with their child, especially when the court has decided the child is being alienated. The court has to though balance the short-term harm to a child to the long-term gain of the child having a meaningful relationship with the parent who has been alienated and the court considers that this is more important. 

If you are concerned that your child may be alienated or being coached by the other parent, we recommend you seek legal advice as quickly as possible. The longer it is left, it can be more difficult to reverse the impact of the alienating parents influence over the child.  At Rucklidge Law we specialize in everything relating to families including Child Law.  Contact us for a free initial consultation.