Parental alienation is described as “actions by one parent (either intentionally or unintentionally) to adversely affect that child’s relationship with the other parent”.
It has, for some time, been recognised by the Family Courts.
Definition of Parental Alienation
There is no formal definition. It has been defined by the Children & Family Court Advisory & Support Service (CAFCASS) as a “series of behaviours to describe circumstances where there is an ongoing pattern of negative attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of one parent that have the potential, or expressed intent, to undermine or obstruct the child’s relationship with the other parent”.
In recent years, some parents have sought to instruct an expert (usually a psychologist) in order to seek to demonstrate or rebut the suggestion of parental alienation.
The role of experts and the role of the Court
A recent case appealed to the High Court has resulted in a review by the Court of the role of experts in this area.
In the particular case, two children (aged 9 and 12), were only having indirect contact with their father. An application was made to instruct an expert to consider whether either parent had tried to alienate the children.
In the appeal, the Court made it clear that it was for the Court to decide on the facts of each case what was in a particular child’s best interests and that this function should not be delegated to an expert.
Whether or not parental alienation had taken place was a question of fact. It could not be considered a syndrome capable of being diagnosed.
This development is a re-emphasising of a case earlier this year (Re C (Parental Alienation: Instruction of Expert)) , where the President of the Family Division of the High Court in England and Wales, Sir Andrew McFarlane, reflected what the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK said, namely:-
“Much like an allegation of domestic abuse; the decision about whether or nor a parent has alienated a child is a question of fact for the Court to resolve and not a diagnosis that can, or should, be offered by a psychologist.”
It is always important that cases are presented to the Court in the clearest way possible, focusing upon the relevant issues and highlighting any evidence that supports the position.
Any parent who is putting forward a case in Court (or engaged in discussions about arrangements before going to Court), needs to make sure that they are putting forward the clearest position, focusing on the most relevant issues and illustrating that with evidence, if they are able to be best able to persuade the other party and/or engage the Court in making decisions that support their view as to what is in the best interests of a child.
Please contact our Children team if you require assistance.