Co-parenting post separation is undoubtedly difficult and challenging, with dynamics changing and emotions highly charged and strained. With the added complexities of separating childcare arrangements and physically sharing children with someone who may make you feel angry, hurt or distrustful, the circumstances can be incredibly hard to handle. When one parent’s behaviour becomes so extreme and negative that it undermines a child’s relationship with the other parent, the situation can become so serious as to result in parental alienation.
Putting the interests of children first
The majority of separating parents recognise the importance for their children in maintaining a positive and loving relationship with both parents. Most parents, with adequate advice and support, can work though tough emotions and set aside acrimonious feelings towards each other, to establish an amicable outcome for the sake of the children.
Separating parents who fail to see the benefit to their children in maintaining a relationship with the other parent and actively seek to destroy or undermine that relationship or alienate the child are said to be “implacably hostile”.
What is parental alienation?
Implacably hostile parents exhibit extreme negative behaviour, more than the normal difficulties in setting aside highly charged emotions. Implacable hostile behaviour is when a parent knowingly or sometimes unknowingly frustrates a relationship between the child and the other parent. This can result in the phenomenon known as parental alienation which arises in situations where a child has deliberately been manipulated, coerced or pressured into aligning with one parent against the other.
Parental alienation is estimated to be present in 11-15% of divorces involving children and is thought to be increasing. The type of behaviour includes one parent repeatedly putting down or demeaning the other, stopping the child talking about the other parent, limiting contact, removing photos and memories of the parent, promoting the idea that the parent does not love the child, or asking the child to choose between parents or to spy and keep secrets.
Parents describe alienation situations as feeling like their children have been turned against them so that any happy recollections of their relationship have been expunged.
Bad partner not bad parent
There are many reasons for parental implacably including control, revenge and fear. When separating, it can be difficult to make the distinction between a bad partner and a bad parent. Often the necessity of continuing contact between separating parents is too painful and parental feelings override the best interests of the children. In some cases, the hostile parent will genuinely believe a child is better off without a relationship with the other parent.
Impact on children
Contact between both parents and a child is a fundamental element of family life and almost without exception in the best interests of the child. When children have become alienated, once loved, valued and respected parents can quickly become feared and hated. It is not generally in the nature of children to reject a parent, even a relatively bad one, unless they have been manipulated to do so.
Identifying parental alienation is sometimes difficult. Obtaining professional help and support as soon as possible for both the parent and child is essential. The children and family court advisory support service (Cafcass) can provide invaluable practical support, guidance and professional help from expert officers and independent social workers who are aware of the issues and how they manifest themselves. In conjunction, instructing a specialist family lawyer to look at this issue and possible legal options should also be considered.
Help from the court
Cafcass estimates that around 80% of the difficult disputes involving children in court relate to parental alienation. It is extremely difficult for the courts to know how to remedy the situation. Sending a hostile parent to prison for repeated breaches of court orders is rare and unlikely to be in the best interests of the child. The court can order that a living arrangement order is transferred away from a hostile parent so a child lives with the other parent but this is not always appropriate or possible.
Historically English courts have found the concept of parental alienation difficult. In recent years, the judiciary has focused on listening to the wishes of the child when deciding their welfare. courts who hear a child expressing resistance to parental contact should be alive to the potential of implacable hostility and parental alienation.
Other jurisdictions go much further in identifying the issue. In the US third parties are put in place to help restore relationships where children have been alienated from one parent. In other countries, fines and prison sentences are issued for parental alienation. In Mexico and Brazil alienating a child is a criminal act. Parental alienation in England is not recognised as child abuse, unlike in other jurisdictions, although campaign groups highlight the need for change claiming it should be made a criminal offence.
Further help and support
Of course prevention is always better than cure. If, as a parent you feel that your relationship with your child is deteriorating because of the extreme behaviour of your ex-partner, seek immediate expert legal and professional advice. Early intervention is critical for both child and parent and can stop the issue escalating to serious levels. Guidance from a specialist family lawyer will include finding practical professional support for the child and parent. At the end of the day, the welfare of a child is paramount, and a child’s interests must have precedence over and above any other consideration.
Disputes over arrangements for children can be very distressing for parents. They can also have a negative effect on the children themselves. It is crucial therefore to obtain the advice and representation of a family law solicitor in London to achieve the best outcome for you and your family.
OTS Solicitors is one of the most respected immigration and family law firms in London and is highly recommended by the Legal 500 for Human Rights and Immigration Law. By making an appointment with one of our immigration and/or family solicitors, you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available in the UK today. Please call us on 0203 959 9123.
Posted on: Thursday, 11 January, 2018