Parental Alienation – rise in cases of children ‘poisoned’ against one parent during family breakdown

Parental alienation is used to describe the phenomenon where one parent poisons their child against the other parent upon separation. Parental alienation is a phrase which is becoming increasingly used to describe particular Family Law cases despite the fact that parental alienation syndrome is not recognised in the DMS (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders) or by the World Health Organisation.

There has been a resistance in the lower courts to even consider that parental alienation may be real, however, other countries, such as Canada and the USA, identify it and ‘parenting coordinators’ are ordered and supervised by the Family courts to help restore relationships with parents and children identified as alienated. In Mexico and Brazil, alienating a child from a parent is a criminal act.

The higher courts are recognising the issue, as in the case of H (Children) [2014] EWCA Civ 733, a case where the Judge transferred residence to re-establish a relationship between a child and an alienated parent, the Judge referred to comments another Judge made in a previous case in her summary:

‘I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional…’

Given the fact parental alienation has become a feature of the majority of difficult family breakdowns CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) is going to offer targeted support for those affected following a government-funded intensive therapeutic pilot programme. The pilot aims to create an ‘alliance’ between both parents in which they can support the child’s relationship with the other parent.

The assistant director of CAFCASS, Sarah Parsons, has stated:

‘Parental alienation is responsible for around 80% of the most intransigent cases that come before the family courts…We already train our social workers to recognise the issue, but this takes helping families experiencing it one step further’

This is a highly emotional area of family law for the entire family. It is essential to seek advice early, if possible at the time of separation as early decisions may affect how things turn out later on. Consulting our specialist lawyers in our Altrincham or Manchester offices is a great first step. We can talk you through your options and help you to decide what is the best way to proceed. Please contact us on 0161 927 3118 for a free 20 minute consultation.