The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has launched a new pilot programme to provide support to those who are victims of “parental alienation.” Cafcass views “parental alienation” as the process of one parent exerting influence over a child in order to turn that child against the other parent.
Parents naturally have a strong influence over their children, and parental alienation hinges on the misuse of this influence.
It occurs when one parent influences their child's or children's view of the other parent. Children are encouraged to view the other parent more negatively, and perhaps even led to believe that the parent in question no longer loves them or that the breakup represents the other parent abandoning them. Parental alienation may be accomplished by saying negative things about the other parent to the child, or by limiting the amount of communication between the other parent and the child. It is therefore often easier for the parent with whom the child normally resides to alienate the other parent, though the process can happen the opposite way around.
This practice is becoming more and more common among families going through separation and divorce. As such, Cafcass has launched the new “Parents in Dispute” pilot scheme, a government-funded programme which aims to encourage parents to better handle family breakdowns. It is designed to educate parents about the ways in which their behaviour can affect their children and make what is already a difficult time harder for them, and in how they can promote and maintain a more positive environment during and after parental separation.
It is believed that parental alienation occurs in somewhere between 11%-15% of all cases of divorce that involve children.
It is becoming more common, and is increasingly being seen and recognised by the UK's judiciary. One judge said, in her summary of such a case, “I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful.
While the practice of parental alienation is becoming more and more widespread, there are still relatively few legal professionals who specifically deal with this issue. This has led to concerns that cases of parental alienation and manipulation could be going unrecognised, with judges and social workers lacking the required training to consistently pick up on or deal with these kinds of situations. Even where legal professionals do have the proper training to tackle the issue, their services can be costly on account of the level of action that needs to be taken in order to confidently conclude that parental alienation is taking place. For example, rigorous psychological assessments may be required. With the costs reaching as much as £50,000, and legal aid having suffered a series of cuts, many parents may simply be unable to afford the costs.
Specialist opinions do offer one brighter note. They widely agree that children are able to pick up and recover relationships with formerly alienated parents both quickly and powerfully once they have been reunited.
Kerry Smith is the Head of Family Law at K J Smith Solicitors. For more information, please visit: www.kjsmith.co.uk