Does Parental Alientation exist?

5th February ‘21

Yes – Parental Alienation is a hugely misunderstood subject that falls between the world of medical/psychiatry/psychology experts and legal professionals.

  • Cafcass, (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service), who independently advise the court in nearly all matters relating to children and represent children in family court cases, accept that Parental Alienation impacts on children. They have developed the Child Impact Assessment Framework to “identify how children are experiencing parental separation and to assess the impact of different case factors on them, including parental alienation”.
  • Cafcass note that “while there is no single definition, we recognise parental alienation 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”. Both the current and previous CEO, Sir Anthony Douglas have been vocal in their views that parental alienation is a form of abuse and causes children long-term damage.
  • Parental Alienation is recognised as an issue internationally and is specifically legislated against in Brazil, Romania, Mexico and Gibraltar. It is recognised throughout the world as an ongoing issue and courts regularly have to address Parental Alienation in the UK, despite Parliament providing no guidance.

Should a definition of Parental Alienation be included in the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020?

Parental Alienation is a form of abuse where both a child and targeted parent suffer harm as a result of a perpetrator. Both men and women can demonstrate alienating behaviours.

Enduring the experience of Parental Alienation is also a profound form of psychological trauma experienced by targeted parents. It is both acute and chronic, and externally inflicted. It is therefore a type of domestic abuse directed at the targeted parent.

Allegations of Parental Alienation are not going away. There is a body of research which tells us that a fractured parental relationship can create difficulties for children which pervade their life, mental health and future relationships; there is also a negative impact on the targeted parent and wider family, such as grandparents, dragged into the fight. In order to ensure better outcomes for those children and families served by the Family Justice System, a legal definition is required.

A definition will assist the court in providing clarity, certainty, consistency, and a framework upon which the judicial system can take steps.

Parental Alienation and the Family Courts

The subject of Parental Alienation has been stated by some as a matter for the Family Courts.  On a case-by-case basis that is true, as each case will have its own distinctive factual matrix.  However, it has been acknowledged by the courts that cases where alienation is asserted place a huge demand on the court’s resources at a time when the Family Court is facing significant pressures; not only are the facts of each case distinct, but the judiciary themselves have wide discretion to apply the law. A definition wouls encourage consistency in the application of Parental Alienation.

Also, the fact that many of the reported cases in which Parental Alienation is said to be a factor take the form of a ‘post-mortem of the lost parental relationship’ provides further support for the argument that more work is required to arrive at a clearer, less controversial definition and one that will offer the court and the families it serves the opportunity to manage such cases effectively, yet efficiently.



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