Going through a separation is difficult and the majority of these cases affect the children. It is clear from research that a child’s reaction and feelings are influenced by the adult behaviour to which they are exposed to.
As a lawyer, I see many separating couples unable to control their hostility towards the other. Little do they realise that this can damage their ability to responsibly co-parent. The children are immediately exposed to a risk of harm when their own parents are unable to put their needs first. In extreme cases, parents will abuse their parental responsibility as a consequence of their negative feelings. A typical example of this, is alienating the other parent from a child’s life. This can cause grave emotional harm and the consequences of which can be significant.
Parental Alienation is a form of psychological abuse against both the child and the other parent. Parental alienation is now recognised by CAFCASS as arising ‘when a child’s hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent’.
This means that a parent is being rejected by their child for no justified reason having previously experienced a normal and loving relationship. Normally, the main aim for that parent is to sever the other parents’ relationship with the child as a form of punishment. Parents fail to understand that children should not be used as weapons.
The consequence of such action can be significant and can lead a Court to consider a transfer of residence. This was the decision made by Judge Lloyd North in a recent case heard in Family Division of the High Court in London. The Mother’s persistent hateful feelings for the Father had an effect on how the child saw his father. The Judge concluded that the eight-year-old boy would suffer significant emotional harm if he continued to live with his Mother and therefore made the decision for him to live with his Father. The Judge commented that the shift in residence would allow the possibility of a positive relationship with both parents.
There is now special guidance available to CAFCASS officers on suspected parent alienation cases called Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF). This aims to examine the underlying cause for any rejection and identifies any risk exposed to the child. It is hoped that this will provide a robust investigation and protect the children’s interests from the outset.
It is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible to minimise any further damage to the parent- child relationship.