Does Your Child Have A Right To A Relationship With You?
By Dawn Gore
Children of separated or divorced families want and need a healthy and strong relationship with both of their parents and to be protected from their parents’ conflicts. However, some parents, in extreme situations, foster the child’s rejection of the other parent and manipulate them to hate the other parent.
Parental alienation is the “programming” of a child by one parent to denigrate the other “targeted” parent. The aim is to undermine and interfere with the child’s relationship with that parent. Such denigration results in the child’s emotional rejection of the targeted parent and the loss of a capable and loving parent from the life of the child. This results in the child becoming alienated from the non-resident parent with whom they have no contact and often the extended family.
This situation can be agonising for the rejected parent and they may seek legal recourse to re-address the situation.
So what is the Court’s approach to ‘Parental Alienation’:
- The Court must consider the ‘ascertainable’ wishes of the child “having regard to their age and level of understanding”. This can be tricky if the child echoes the sentiments of the alienating parent.
- The Courts will presume that having both parents in the child’s life is in their best interests and that it will benefit the child for both parents to be involved in their life where it is “safe” to do so.
- Court proceedings cause delay which often plays into the hands of the alienating parent as it enables them to control the child’s arrangements until the Judge is able to determine the outcome after a contested Hearing..
- Quite often the Judge is unaware of what is going on ‘at home’ unless presented with expert evidence, such as from CAFCASS or a social worker. This takes time to obtain and in the interim, the Judge is likely to adopt a cautious approach, not wishing to make an interim decision that may cause the child more harm.
- There is no spoken evidence until the ‘Final Hearing’ which may be many months down the line. Having heard evidence under cross-examination, the Court may accept that one parent has been responsible for alienating the child against the other, but by then, the damage to the child and the parental relationship has been done.
- An alienating parent may disregard a Court Order which provides for the child to spend time with the other parent and if the other parent does not seek to enforce it then this lack of contact during proceedings progresses the alienation further.
How we can help you avoid the pitfalls:
- Consider the need for applications to be heard on an urgent basis and deal with enforcement applications swiftly to prevent the onset of alienation.
- Engage appropriate professionals such as family therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors or social workers if necessary at an early stage. The key is to hear the child’s opinion without an applied filter by the alienating parent.
- Submit evidence to the Court as soon as permitted so that the voice of the alienating parent is also heard by the Court swiftly.
The cold, harsh reality of the situation is that it is a long, hard slog, which can often result in lengthy and expensive litigation with often no guarantee as to the outcome. Self preservation is therefore essential.
Top tips to prepare the alienated parent for the uphill struggle:
- Hang in there
- Remember how important it is for your child to fight for them
- Do not ask your child questions about the alienating parent or criticise that parent in the presence of the child
- Do not seek incriminating evidence from your child
- Your child needs you to be their sanctuary
- Be a consistent and positive presence wherever possible
- Stay in touch with your child by way of cards and gifts if you are not seeing them and encourage your family to do so
- Maintain the family network and include the child in it
- Seek support for yourself
- A specialist therapist can help you glean strength and understanding throughout the process
There is hope
The landscape is changing. Courts do acknowledge that the presence of ‘parental alienation’ is real in some families and requires rapid intervention if children and parents are to have a healthy emotional future free from long term psychological harm.
Some High Court judgments are now categorically referring to “parental alienation” in order to highlight particular cases, regardless of the fact that parental alienation syndrome is not explicitly recognised in the DMS (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders) or by the World Health Organisation. If you are an alienated parent and want to re-address this situation, move quickly and don’t give up.
Dawn Gore is a Paralegal and Certified Family Law Assistant in the Family Team. She specialises in advising parents on settling the arrangements for their children following separation or divorce and has particular expertise in cases with complex issues.
To contact Dawn:
T: 01722 426 945
M: 07881 343 960
Trethowans is a UK Top 150 law firm that has been in existence for 150 years and has a team of over 200 people, including 31 partners. Our offices are based in Southampton, Salisbury, Poole and Winchester (by prior appointment only).