Concerns of parental alienation can arise in family law cases where a child is refusing to spend time with or is hostile to one parent without explanation. It is a very complex area, but it does exist in cases, which in turn can cause emotional and psychological harm to the child.
In the context of family law, parental alienation is where a parent turns a child against the other parent either intentionally or unintentionally. This can be through acts by the alienating parent to create negative views or feelings towards the other parent, such as speaking about them in a negative light, preventing the child from spending time with them, or persuading or otherwise encouraging the child to reject them. These acts can be subtle or obvious, but the effects either way can be damaging to both the targeted parent and the child.
If an application to the court is made to determine living arrangements for a child, Cafcass will identify any safeguarding risks that could be harmful to a child, including whether a child is experiencing alienating behaviours. If there is suggestion that parental alienation has taken place, a family court judge may then have the difficult task of determining the reason why so that further consideration can be made before deciding arrangements for the child going forward.
It is preferable to aim to create an environment where both parents work together to act in the child’s best interests, over and above their own wishes, to prevent alienating behaviours. This can of course be challenging, particularly if emotions are running high. Attending mediation, if appropriate, may assist you in opening a forum for discussion where a professional third person can assist with avoiding potential conflict. Children can be included in the mediation process if it is suitable to do so, providing them with an opportunity to see both parents working together when making decisions about them.
Encouraging positive communication between both parents can also help to build a healthy relationship and reduce the chances of any misunderstandings. A co-parenting app may assist with this, with many offering shared calendar functions and message facilities to keep communication clear and in one place.
Unless there are safeguarding issues which may put a child at risk of harm, most family courts prefer that the parents have some sort of shared care arrangement so as to ensure that a child maintains a full and meaningful relationship with both parents. Spending regular time with both parents can help to maintain a healthy relationship between the child and the targeted parent.
In some cases, it will sadly not be possible to work with the other parent and it may be necessary to seek the assistance of a specialist legal and/or health professional.
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