What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation occurs when, following a divorce or separation, one parent deliberately tries to turn a child against the other in an attempt to stop the child seeing or having a relationship with them.
As any parent who has experienced this will know, the consequences can be devastating. Earlier this year, CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) said that parental alienation amounts to child abuse.
How common is it?
Parental alienation is thought to occur in 11-15% of divorces involving children, but CAFCASS believes this number is rising. In a bid to combat the issue, CAFCASS is piloting a new approach to deal with parental alienation.
What is the approach?
In Spring 2018, a new ‘High Conflict Practice Pathway’ will be rolled out for use in all cases of suspected parental alienation. Offending parents will first be given the opportunity to change their behaviour with the help of an intensive 12 week ‘Positive Parenting Programme’.
It has been widely reported that, if there is no improvement following this, CAFCASS will routinely recommend that the child be removed from that parent and, in extreme cases, have no further contact with them. The pathway is still in development and it remains to be seen exactly what the guidelines will say.
CAFCASS has said that the pathway will not be used in cases where there are issues of domestic abuse.
Is this a radical change?
CAFCASS describes the new approach as ground-breaking, but in fact these measures have been used in the family courts for some time. Imposing a change of residence is already a tool used by the court to try to curb parental alienation.
However, these new guidelines demonstrate CAFCASS’s commitment to tackling the issue head on using a range of measures. Up to now, CAFCASS has dealt with parental alienation on a case-by-case basis by recognising the more obvious symptoms, but often the signs are subtler and therefore cases can slip through the net. CAFCASS hopes that the new guidelines will prevent this from happening by recognising the spectrum of parental alienation and adopting a more nuanced approach.
We will learn later exactly what impact the changes will make, but it is clear that CAFCASS is sending out a very strong message that parental alienation is harmful to children and should not be tolerated.
If you would like to speak to one of our specialist family lawyers about parental alienation, please contact us on 01392 421 237 in Exeter or 01752 269 071 in Plymouth.