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Parents Who Turn Children Against Former Partners in ‘Parental Alienation’ Cases, Risk Losing Them

Parents Who Turn Children Against Former Partners in ‘Parental Alienation’ Cases, Risk Losing Them

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is set to undertake a “groundbreaking” trial in November 2017, which it is hoped will lead to a new initiative in the Spring 2018, the High Conflict Practice Pathway, which will see divorcing parents denied access to their children if they attempt to turn them against their ex-partner. Cafcass reports that so-called ‘parental alienation’ happens in over 125,000 divorce cases each year.

The High Conflict Practice Pathway will only be used in cases where it has been established that Domestic Violence or Domestic Abuse are not a feature, as clear guidance already exists on how such issues should be managed in the family courts.

Parental alienation could, for example, include one parent constantly speaking negatively about the other parent to their children, prohibiting a child to speak about the other parent in their presence, purposefully limiting contact between the child and their parent, or manipulating the child to feel that their other parent does not love them anymore.

In addition, experts in child abuse and divorce cases also report that damaging parental alienation occurs on a spectrum from mild to extreme. However, experts have only developed a clearer picture of the diverse ways in which parental alienation manifests itself in recent years.

Sarah Parsons, the assistant director of Cafcass, said:

“We have reached a much clearer position on parental alienation recently, which we want to send a very clear, strong message about. The current, popular view of parental alienation is highly polarised and doesn’t recognise this spectrum. We want to reclaim the centre ground and develop a more nuanced, sophisticated understanding of what’s going on.”

She added: “We are increasingly recognising that parental alienation is a feature in many of our cases and have realised that it’s absolutely vital that we take the initiative. Our new approach is groundbreaking.”

Parents seeking to alienate former partner will be referred to a Positive Parenting Programme

The new trial will see that Cafcass caseworkers are provided with new guidelines which lay out key directions for social workers who are working with cases that involve suspected parental alienation. In addition, Cafcass has also developed a 12-week intensive programme, which they have called Positive Parenting, designed to help the abusive parent develop greater empathy for their child and to provide them with skills to manage and break their patterns of abusive behaviour.

Alienating parents who do not respond well to the programme and who fail to demonstrate behavioural changes may not be allowed to live with their children. In addition, a parent who is unresponsive to the programme could also have their contact with their child limited or refused for several months. In the worst cases, the parent will be prohibited from seeing their child again.

Parental alienation plays role in 80% of worst divorce cases

Parental alienation is a feature of approximately 11%-15% of divorces involving children. In addition, Cafcass reports that parental alienation plays a part in approximately 80% of the most difficult divorce cases seen by the court.

Chief executive of Cafcass, Anthony Douglas, has argued that the practice of ‘brainwashing’ children against a former parent should be taken as seriously as other forms of neglect or child abuse.

Mr Douglas said:

“It’s undoubtedly a form of neglect or child abuse in terms of the impact it can have. I think the way you treat your children after a relationship has broken up is just as powerful a public health issue as smoking or drinking.”

He added: “There isn’t a specific criminal law that outlaws parental alienation in the UK. But we do have family law and through assessments and enforcement proceedings, we do have the ability to send parents to prison or give them community sentences. But this is hardly ever the case because ultimately the punishment on the parent will rebound on the child.”

Contact our childcare and family law solicitors today

If your family is undergoing a difficult child custody case, or you need representation for Care and Adoption proceedings, our legal experts can help you.

Contact us in confidence on 01895 207857, or email us at childcare@ibblaw.co.uk

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