New framework from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service will assist cases featuring adult behaviours associated with high conflict such as parental alienation.
Parental alienation has received a lot of consideration within the Family Court. It can be described as a child being pre-occupied with unjustified criticism of a parent; as opposed to family circumstances when there is a realistic alienation from that parent, for example, due to abuse. There may be many family breakdowns which include some elements consistent with parental alienation. It can also be claimed by an abusive parent in an attempt to maintain some control over a family situation. Practical advice given to parents who are experiencing that situation can focus upon:
- What changes they can make;
- To try to see how their actions aggravate;
- To continue to attempt contact;
- In cases of no contact to make sure that they can be found by their child;
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) has been developing what is termed as its High Conflict Practice Pathway. This is a Framework to help CAFCASS professionals assist cases which feature adult behaviours associated with high conflict. The pathway includes but is not limited to parental alienation which in itself is seen as a broad spectrum of behaviours with a varying impact.
The CAFCASS aim is to provide one Framework to promote a consistent and evidence informed approach to help practitioners find an outcome in the best interests of the children involved. It aims to distinguish between parental alienation and justified rejection of the parent by a child due to inappropriate or harmful behaviour.
It aims to identify at an early stage of a case if the Framework is appropriate and then work can be undertaken with the family to improve the situation.
Legally there have been a number of points arising in cases known as “intractable contact disputes” which include:
- Early intervention because delay can result in the balance between resumption of contact and no contact falling on the side of no contact;
- Involvement of an expert skilled at working with alienated children;
- Acceptance that alienated children are at risk of significant long term emotional harm;
- Importance of judicial continuity so that the same judge has conduct of the case for consistency of approach and decision making;
- The Court assessing the “ascertainable wishes” rather than expressed wishes of the child.
There appear to be four broad approaches taken by the Court in such cases:
- Education of the parents about the potential damage to the child and the consequences of not respecting agreements or Court orders;
- Inviting the local authority to intervene;
- Child arrangement and enforcement orders;
- A change of the resident parent although this is a decision rarely taken or considered to be in the child’s best interests.
It is recognised that children exposed to parental conflict and alienating behaviour experience emotional harm and the new CAFCASS Framework is a positive step towards preventing this. Our family team supports families through some of the most complex situations and fully supports any developments to protect the parties involved.
Andrew Lobb is a senior associate in Devon and Cornwall’s only family law team ranked in Tier One by both Chambers & Partners and Legal 500 family law team, and is based in St Austell. If you have any questions with regards to family law, please call 01726 74433 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.