It is a widely recognised phenomenon in North America, but we have a long way to go in this country. Parental alienation is now illegal in Brazil and is widely recognised in the United States of America and Canada, but in England and Wales, there is some way to go.
Putting it simply, parental alienation is where one parent “turns” the child or children against the other parent.
Parental alienation is not recognised as child abuse under our jurisdiction, although campaign groups say that needs to change with some claiming it should be made a criminal offence. What one has to recognise is the effect on the child of this implacable hostility. Frequently, the inability to put the child's feelings and needs above those of the perpetrator is something the perpetrator is unable to do. There are, therefore, strong arguments to suggest that parental alienation is a form of psychological abuse.
Encouragingly, within our courts, we are seeing progress. High Court Judgements are now being passed using the words “parental alienation”, but it is an expression still rarely heard in the lower courts where many legal professionals seem slow to acknowledge the phenomenon.
Parental alienation cases usually arise in families where parents have separated or divorced. Often, although not in every case, this can involve very serious allegations against a parent ranging from domestic violence to physical and sexual abuse and in an extreme case in which I represented a Father, cannibalism and even murder. Historically, professionals involved with children generally tend to believe allegations made by children and which in many cases are often supported or manipulated by the parent who is the primary carer of the child.
Just as historically allegations made by children to professionals have tended to be believed, at least initially, the wishes and feelings of children have been accepted without proper inquiry as to what may have influenced those wishes and feelings. Gradually case law is moving away from all of this, but apart from in the High Court, often convincing a Judge that the case involves parental alienation can be an uphill task. It is for that reason that specialist legal representation is required.
Where serious allegations have been made by a child in respect of the non-resident parent this can result in not only Family Court Proceedings, but also in the Police investigating the allegations. Police investigations notoriously are currently taking much time to investigate and unless matters are brought to a head in the Family Court, a non-resident parent can be left completely in limbo waiting for the Police, in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, to decide whether or not to charge the non-resident parent with a criminal offence. In the meantime, more often than not, any contact with the child has been suspended. This is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
In the event that such a situation exists whereby a child has made serious allegations leading to a criminal investigation, we would always recommend that the non-resident parent should make an urgent application to the Court and should seek what is known as a “fact-finding hearing”. Whilst inevitably there will always be objection to this, usually by the resident parent and even the Court, with expert representation, such an application should be successful and the case should be listed for an early determination of the facts in the Family Court. In doing so, this will focus the Police and other professionals working on the case. Most importantly, it will provide for disclosure between the Police investigation and the family proceedings. This can very often assist the Police in its decision-making, particularly if it is a case where it is clear there is historical evidence of parental hostility/alienation towards the non-resident parent who is subject to the Police investigation. Often this will be in the form of numerous previous allegations, often involving investigating by social services and the police, all of which led to no action being taken against the non-resident parent against whom the allegations were made.
A Judgment arising from the Family Court Proceedings entirely exonerating the non¬-resident parent will most certainly help focus the Police/CPS and other professionals’ thoughts in relation to continuing with any proposed prosecution whilst at the same time enabling the Family Court to then address how to repair the relationship between the non-resident parent and the child.
Ultimately, if after a finding of parental alienation the resident parent fails to cooperate with the Court’s proposals regarding repairing the relationship, the final sanction could be a transfer of residence and/or a suspended prison sentence, or in the worst cases, prison itself.
Following a Fact Finding Judgement, exonerating the non-resident parent and having made a finding of parental alienation, often the resident parent will suggest indirect contact with a view to “re-starting” the relationship between the non-resident parent and child. However, case law is clear that this almost always serves little purpose.
Direct contact is almost always preferable and should be reinstated immediately. Again, this is another reason for seeking specialist legal advice and representation because often considerable persuasion of the court is necessary if direct contact is opposed.
These cases are often the most challenging cases in Private Family Law that Judges have come before them. They require expert representation and specialist legal knowledge. It is for that reason that we strongly recommend you seek the best legal advice/ representation available and which is something we are highly experienced in providing.
It can be immensely upsetting if your child appears to dislike you and or makes untrue allegations about you. However, usually in cases of parental alienation, the resident parent who has either directly or indirectly influenced the child has caused this. This could have been in a variety of ways, for example, by causing the child to believe that the non-resident parent is violent and has been violent to the child when very young and or to the resident parent. Another example is that the resident parent could have played the “victim” so that the child believes that the non-resident parent is a bully or cruel to the resident parent in some way and then feel protective of them. Another example is causing the child to feel considerable guilt about having positive feelings about the non-resident family for fear of distressing the resident parent. These examples are only but a few and are emotionally and psychologically harmful towards the child.
In the words of two recognised leading experts in this field
“The court process isn’t a perfect one. In fact, it has many flaws and seeking a resolution through the courts can be a long, exhausting and sometimes fruitless task. But, except in a very small minority of cases, we would always recommend that it is a step you should take. While there are risks attached to the court process, there is an even greater risk of inaction. The conflict may increase and this may intensify the anxiety for your child. Your child may even become more entrenched in their hostility toward you. But, the alternative is to leave your child trapped in a situation that is harmful, damaging and in many cases, abusive. The risk to your child of not going to court is almost always greater than that of doing so.”
For these reasons we strongly recommend that in the majority of cases, court proceedings are necessary. It provides the best option available for resolving an untenable situation in which your child finds themselves. It also provides the best opportunity for you to salvage your relationship with your child and of preventing them from facing the risk of mental health related issues during childhood and adulthood.
If you know or suspect your child’s mother or father is alienating your child from you, we can help. We have the specialist knowledge and experience necessary for cases of this nature that require expertise often outside the knowledge of many family solicitors and barristers who do not deal with these cases on a regular basis. Do not risk your relationship with your child.
Contact us on 01737 229 610 or use our contact form.