Following a separation, most couples are able to plan between themselves about how much time they will each spend with their children. However, as Ruth Jackson family law expert with FSM Solicitors LLP in Chippenham explains, there are occasions where this is not possible because one parent is unfairly and unreasonably trying to turn the children against the other. In its most extreme form, this is known as ‘parental alienation’, Ruth explains:
‘Parental alienation is a relatively new concept as far as the courts in the UK are concerned and goes beyond a parent simply being obstructive regarding arrangements for the children. It occurs where one parent tries to manipulate a child
into believing bad things about the other parent so that they no longer want to see them or where false allegations are made to try to prevent contact occurring. In serious cases, claims or allegations of violence or sexual abuse might be made’.
When it happens, positive action needs to be taken, usually through the courts, to stamp it out as quickly as possible.
What can be done?
Where you know or suspect your ex is trying to turn your children against you, or is otherwise unreasonably stopping you from seeing them, it is important that you seek advice immediately. Your solicitor can discuss your options with you and help you gather as much evidence as possible to support what you believe is happening.
While discussing matters with your ex to try to resolve matters amicably is always encouraged, it may be necessary for you to apply to court for a child arrangements order if this proves to be impossible. Remember that in most cases you will need to show the court that you have tried to resolve matters through mediation, before applying to the court.
What will the court do?
Before the first hearing, an officer from CAFCASS will prepare a short report, in the form of a letter to the court, setting out any immediate safeguarding concerns. This may identify concerns about parental alienation. After that, the court may instruct CAFCASS to prepare a longer report for the court and make a recommendation to the judge as to how matters should proceed.
In cases where parental alienation is alleged, the judge may need the assistance of a more experienced professional to help them in the decision-making process, such as a child psychologist.
If a court-appointed expert confirms that parental alienation is happening, the expert may also make recommendations about how the children should be supported to enable the court to make arrangements for them going forward.
What orders can the court make?
In deciding what orders to make, the paramount consideration for the court will be the welfare of the children.
Where parental alienation is a factor, the court will want to ensure that any arrangements put in place will work and may keep matters under review for a while to make sure this is the case.
In extreme cases, the court can decide that it is not in the children’s best interests to spend time with a parent. While this is very rare, the court must consider the welfare of the children above all and if this means cutting contact then this is what the court will do. Getting legal advice early may reduce the risk of this happening.
Sanctions can be imposed on a parent who does not cooperate with the court process and any subsequent orders made; these include making the parent do unpaid work or paying legal costs. It is even possible for the court to order a parent to be imprisoned for contempt of court, although that is a very unusual step for the court to take.
If you need advice about parental alienation, or any other family law matter, please contact Ruth Jackson on 01249 444300.