Even though Covid restrictions are thankfully starting to ease, for some parents – separated from their children – their lives are far from returning to normal, writes David Hodgson, a Partner in our Family & Divorce team.
Parental alienation is recognised more frequently than ever in cases involving disputes about children. When parents separate it is well known that the courts have the power to make a child arrangements order, which stipulates how much time a separated parent can spend with his or her children.
The courts have a duty to try everything possible to enable children to have a relationship with both their parents after separation unless it is not safe for them.
Parental Alienation is when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. For many years such a concept was not recognised but this is no longer the case.
Sometimes, a child’s reluctance can be justified, for example if children have experienced domestic abuse and high conflict between their parents, it is not unusual for them to align themselves with one parent, often expressing reluctance to spend time with the other.
It is thought that this happens when the children have divided loyalties and the child’s protection mechanism kicks in to try and avoid further conflict.
Sadly, during the height of the Covid pandemic, some parents also saw this as an ideal opportunity to use the lockdown restrictions as an excuse for their children not to spend time with the other parent. The government were however quick to step in to issue guidance to ensure that such a stance was not tenable or acceptable.
If, however you are in a position where you are being unreasonably denied the opportunity to spend time with your child, whether this be down to a child’s reluctance or the reluctance of the other parent, early intervention is key. Although the court should be seen as the last resort, in such cases it is often the only option. Any delay could mean that a child’s position becomes more entrenched and provides the other parent with more of an opportunity to validate a child’s behaviour and manipulate the child.
Such parents will often seek to justify their actions by reference to the child’s wishes but they are unwilling to take any active steps to remedy the situation.
When a child refuses to go willingly to see the other parent, professional psychologists or psychiatrists are sometimes engaged to establish the root of that reluctance, and they may conclude that it is the behaviour of the parent with care that has consciously or subconsciously “alienated” the child from the absent parent. In some cases, it will be obvious and intentional behaviour that leads to this reluctance. Those are the less complex cases. Where it is unintended and subconscious, things are rather more complex.
There have been many papers written about this subject and yet it remains one of the most difficult for our courts to resolve satisfactorily. There are a limited number of approaches that a court can take when faced with a true parental alienation scenario. The first is to make orders that a child must spend time with a parent and if these are breached to try and enforce them. There are now more enforcement mechanisms available, and as an absolute last resort, the court can make an order that the child lives with the “absent” or “alienated” parent. The second approach involves therapy for the parents, the whole family, and the child, usually with psychologists or psychiatrists.
Children have the right to maintain a relationship with both parents when it is safe to do so. If this is not happening, then early intervention is key. Technological advancements now give parents even more of an opportunity to keep in touch with their children via telephone, video, text, or e-mail. If these forms of communication are being denied without reasonable justification it is important that steps are taken sooner rather than later.
If you are affected by similar issues or would like to have a related discussion in confidence, please call me quoting Ref CB279 on 020 7091 2869 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The above is accurate as at 21 February 2022. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.