It’s not the latest scary sequel to “Home Alone” or “Men In Black”. It’s worse. There have been stories in the newspapers, and even a debate within Parliament earlier this year. ‘Parental Alienation’ has been troubling the pundits and causing concern amongst professionals. It’s what can happen when parents split up; and one parent tries to turn the child against the other parent.
Once upon a time, nobody wanted to believe that some single parents could feel such hostility against the absent parent that they would deliberately use the child as a weapon in their adult dispute. But professionals are finally beginning to acknowledge the harm which such behaviour can cause.
CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) is the professional body appointed to assist the family court. Their role in children cases is to speak with the child as well as the adults. They will investigate whether one parent has been trying to turn the child against the other parent. For a trial period CAFCASS will be recommending to the judge that a parent who is being unreasonably hostile should be denied contact with their child.
CAFCASS says that an opportunity will be given to the unreasonable parent to look at their behaviour and take positive steps to change their ways. The trial will include a 12 week programme of education and support. Parents who simply won’t change (referred to by lawyers as “implacably hostile”), or who refuse to engage with the programme in the first place, may no longer be allowed to live with their child. They may even risk losing contact with the child completely.
If the trial is successful, it will be rolled out nationwide from spring 2018. CAFCASS will issue new guidelines to caseworkers about how to deal with parents who simply won’t work together for the benefit of their children. And these guidelines will assist the family courts in dealing with disputes involving an element of ‘parental alienation’.
Understanding the reasons behind a parent’s behaviour is vital. Not every parent who wants to protect a child from the other parent is being unreasonable! If the police or social services have been involved, there may be excellent reasons for limiting parental visits. However, parental alienation is a real issue and, in future, CAFCASS has guidelines to deal with it. In the most extreme cases, the courts will order that the child can go to live with the parent who has been unjustly denied contact.
If you are having trouble seeing your child and want to know what you can do, or if you are trying to protect your child from spending time with a violent parent, please contact our friendly Family Law Team at Clarkes. We will be happy to assist you.
Emma Davies is a Solicitor with Clarkes’ Family Team. Clarkes have offices throughout Shropshire. Contact us for legal advice about children issues, divorce and related financial matters or email firstname.lastname@example.org