In the challenging circumstances of family breakdown – when there is a dispute over arrangements for the children that the Court has to determine, the Court will look at arrangements from the point of view of what is in the best interests of that particular child.
It is often suggested that one parent is deliberately trying to undermine the other parent’s relationship with the child. This can be difficult to prove, but if it is happening, can be incredibly damaging for that child.
Increasingly, in other countries, there has been recognition of concept of parental alienation and the damage it can cause.
In Mexico and Brazil, alienating a child from a parent is a Criminal Act.
In the US and Canada, parenting co-ordinators are available to be appointed by the Court to assist in re-building relationships between children and those parents whom it is felt they have been alienated from.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) – the organisation which advises Courts on many parental disputes over children and makes recommendations to the Court in these cases, is introducing a new approach, aimed at trying to address the issue of parental alienation.
CAFCASS have suggested that within the 125,000 cases they are involved in each year, parental alienation is present in a significant number of them.
Starting next year, CAFCASS will be focusing upon parental alienation through a trial programme, aimed at some particularly difficult cases involving a 12 week intensive, positive parenting programme. The aim of that programme is to help the parent whom it is considered has been responsible for the parental alienation, putting themselves in their child’s position so as to better understand the damage they are causing, and to assist that parent in trying to end their alienating behaviour.
I anticipate that this new initiative will be welcomed by those parents who face real problems maintaining contact with their children, and feel that the other parent is obstructing the relationship they should be having with their child.
There already exists a number of options for the Court in dealing with circumstances where it identifies that a parent’s relationship with a child is being undermined by the other parent.
Our family law team has helped families involvement in such cases. However, whilst the Court do have the ability to address issues of parental alienation where it is identified, this initiative is very much to be welcomed and it will be really interesting to see how the trial proceeds.
Bill Wilkins is a partner in the Stephens Scown family team. He specialises in all aspects of family and child care law and is a member of the Law Society’s Child Care Panel. Bill can be contacted on 01932 210700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.