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What is Parental Alienation?

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

What is Parental Alienation (a.k.a Child Alienation) ? And how do Courts Deal with Parental alienation?

Parental Alienation is a complex and sensitive subject. It’s when one parent tries to sabotage the child’s relationship with the other parent by psychologically manipulating the child. This is usually done by thwarting the agreement between the child and the other parent, encouraging the child to fear or act aggressively towards the other parent.

This is our second article on this painful matter.

In some extreme cases, one parent even makes false allegations of sexual abuse against the other to permanently prevent them from having any link with the child that can take months or even years to get resolved.

Can parental alineation harm the child?

Parental Alienation, Cafcass Social Worker, Section 7 Report, Domestic Abuse report
Parental Alienation is harmful to the child

A parent’s separation is a devastating experience for a child that can cause some major emotional breakdown. The intensity of breakdown is different for everyone and can manifest itself through a variety of emotions including anger, withdrawal, skiving, and emotional breakdowns.

Studies have shown that adult behaviour highly influences the feelings and reactions of children. When parents misuse their parental authority by alienating one parent from the child’s life, it can cause grave emotional damage to the child.

Is it illegal to do parental alienation?

Parental Alienation is a significant legal issue that occurs when a resident parent deliberately seeks to alienate the child from the other parent by deploying them to act hostile against the other parent and take their side. In some cases, separated parents become so hostile to each other which affects the ability to co-parent. The negative feelings make them unable to put the child’s first and they began to abuse their parental position in a way that can be damaging to the child, e.g., alienating the other parent from their life.

Parental Alienation can be referred to as a kind of psychological abuse against the child and rejected parent. CAFCASS recognized it as a situation when the child’s hostility towards another parent is not justified and is a result of psychological manipulation by the other parent resulting in one parent being rejected by the child without a justified reason.

How to Identify Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation, Cafcass Social Worker, Section 7 Report, Domestic Abuse report, Rejection of the parent by the child
Child Alienation by the other parent Parental Alienation)

It is important to distinguish between Parental Alienation and other causes behind the child’s refusal to spend time with the rejected parent. The CIAF analyzes the underlying cause for the rejection to identify any risks involved. The reasons for parental rejection are complex and should be identified with the help of a specialist. It’s better to investigate the reasons properly first rather than finding solutions immediately. Let’s take a look at the range of potential causes for refusal of contact.

Are there justified reasons why the child is rejecting the other parent?

Appropriate Justified Rejection: When the child has been harmed or scared by the parent as a result of harmful parenting and refuses to spend time with the parent. It may include domestic abuse, substance misuse, or neglect.

Affinity / Alignment: It’s when the child doesn’t harbour any negative feelings for the alienated parent and just prefers to spend the time with one parent. This behaviour is a result of alignment that may develop before, during, or after the separation because of other parent’s absence.

Attachment: Refusing or resisting spending time with the parent due to attachment reasons e.g., separation anxiety or age or gender-appropriate behaviours.

Harmful Conflict: When the parents don’t put the child's needs first and it becomes harmful to the child, they refuse or resist spending time with that parent. Behaviours that can be harmful to the child and lead towards the harmful conflict may include Psychological issues, neglect, and coercive parenting.

How Family Courts in England Deal with Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation has become common in child custody cases that can have a long-term impact on a family. There’s been some debate about the impact it has child’s mental and emotional state, with both public and professional raising concerns.

Parental Alienation, Cafcass Social Worker, Section 7 Report, Domestic Abuse report
Cafcass Social Worker

If you think your child has been alienated against you, seek legal advice from a Family and Child Law Solicitor immediately. If the child's alienation is severe, consider making an urgent application to the court and let them determine whom the child should spend time with.

Once your application will make it to the Court, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service will intervene and speak to you regarding your concerns. They’ll also investigate the accused parent based on your allegations and recommend the further steps in your case to the court.

CAFCASS is highly skilled in handling child disputes. The CAFASS professionals, social workers, and the court will decide whether the allegations are true or not or is it a deliberate effort to turn the child against the accused parent.

While making a verdict, they’ll consider whether the child's wishes and feelings should be taken into consideration as to whom the child should be given or what sort of contact the child should establish with the alienated parent.

However, if the court jury and professionals feel any doubts after meeting the child and parents, they can cease the custody of the child from the resident-parent and move them into alienated parent care.

CAFCASS has developed a specific guideline available now, known as the Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) to effectively deal with parental and child alienation issues.

Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF)

The Child Impact Assessment Framework has been developed by CAFCASS, to help Cafcass officers who are responsible to report any suspected parental alienation cases with family proceedings.

The framework helps to identify how children are undergoing parental separation and evaluate the different factors involved in the separation that can impact the child including parental alienation. The tools of the framework are interconnected to identify more than one complex behaviour that may be affecting the child.

It combines the current guidelines and tools with new tools to create four guidelines that can be used by family court advisors FCAs, and Cafcass private law practitioners to investigate the impact of different case factors on the children.

Here are the factors that can be assessed:

Domestic Abuse

When the child has experienced direct or indirect abuse from the impact of coercive control from the parent. That may include emotional, physical, psychological, or financial abuse.

Conflict That’s Harmful to the Child

When the conflict between parents becomes damaging or unbearable for the child for example mutual hostility or a long-running court case.

Child Refusal or Resistance

When the child refuses to spend time with one of the parents due to parental alienation or some other justified reasons.

Other Types of Harmful Parenting

Lastly, other forms of parenting that are unacceptable such as drug use or mental health issues, are assessed as harmful to the child.

Advantages of the Framework

The framework is a great effort and a step forward to equip those responsible for making decisions about child welfare with the right tools to uncover the real family dynamics difficult to recognize. Based on both existing knowledge and guidance, it uses an evidence-based approach to reach an outcome that’s best for the children involved. Here are the advantages it brings to the table:

1. It promotes a common understanding of parental alienation and keeps the key focus on the child when allegations are made.

2. It emphasizes that child impact and safeguarding principles should be the major focus of the assessment to figure out what’s the child experiencing.

3. It provides a clear direction to support practitioners in assessing the impact of a variety of complicated case factors.

4. Creates a comprehensive and reliable framework of reference to facilitate consistent and balanced reporting to the court.

5. The framework keeps the child's feelings and needs central focal point of the recommendations presented in the court like which parent they should spend time or live with.

6. The tools of the framework are interconnected to identify more than one complex behaviour that may be affecting the child.

How the Framework is Used by Family Court Advisors (FCA)?

The Child Impact Assessment Framework has already set the guidelines for parental alienation case assessments. The investigation begins with a question. “What’s happening for this child?”

The FCA collects all the information to decide which tool or guides will be applied to the case while making reference to safety laws and considering any potential influence on a child’s wellbeing.

Parental Alienation, Cafcass Social Worker
Parental Alienation, Cafcass Social Worker

The FCA listens to the child and continuously assesses all the underlying issues present while being open to any additional information that might add up.

After the completion of the inquiry, FCA reflects on what all the evidence gathered means for the individual child which leads to the next step of making recommendations to the court and parents about the necessary measures and interventions best for the child.

If you’re a victim of parental alienation, it’s important to remember that family Courts in England and Wales are there to help. They aim to make sure that the allegations are properly investigated and the decision is in the best interest of the child.

Please note that nothing on this article or the website should be treated as Legal advice. The company is managed by a well-regarded professional and is a Fellow Member of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals.


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