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Emotional Abuse Allegations in UK Child Custody Cases

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Life can be tough. It is bad enough to split up with your ex-partner but it is so much harder when you have children and you can't agree on child custody or contact arrangements after your divorce. In this blog, our family law solicitors look at emotional abuse allegations in UK child custody cases; what emotional abuse means and the help that specialist family lawyers can offer if you have been accused of emotionally abusing your child or you fear your former partner is doing so to get back at you.

Online and London Family Law Solicitors and Children Lawyers

For specialist children law legal advice call the expert London family lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form .

What is emotional abuse?

Parents can be reluctant to accuse their former partner of emotionally ‘abusing’ their child because the term abuse implies physical harm or neglect, rather than a parent playing on a child’s emotions. Often a concerned parent will think that making an issue of the emotional abuse will make the situation escalate and further polarise positions over child custody and contact and what is in the best interests of your child.

Children law solicitors advise that the definition of emotional abuse of children is very wide. In the same way that the definition of domestic violence in relationships includes physical violence as well as psychological and emotional harm and coercive and controlling behaviour. The NSPCC defines emotional abuse as ‘’abuse that involves the continual emotional mistreatment of a child ’’.

In child custody cases, emotional abuse often stems from one parent’s anger and hurt about the parental separation and divorce.  This can result in a parent’s feelings evolving into unintended emotional abuse of their child. To the parent it doesn’t feel like emotional abuse because they are too upset by the separation or their financial settlement worries to understand the impact of what they are doing.

The other parent can feel powerless to stop the emotional abuse. For example, they may feel guilty that they left the relationship as they met someone new or because they know they can't look after their child on a full time basis because of their work commitments or their new family.

Examples of emotional abuse in child custody and contact proceedings

There is a vast range of emotional abuse in children law proceedings. At its most extreme, social services may want to investigate, assess and start care proceedings to protect a child. At the other end of the scale, a family judge may dismiss what one parent believes amounts to emotional abuse of their child.

Some examples of emotional abuse in child custody and contact proceedings include:

  • A parent saying that they will kill themselves if the child wants contact with the other parent or goes ahead with a contact visit
  • A parent saying the other parent is evil and that the child will grow up to be just like that parent if they have contact
  • A parent saying if they have contact with the other parent then they disown them; it is the child’s choice
  • A parent telling a child that the parental relationship breakdown was down to the child’s behaviour or that a parent left the family home because the parent didn’t love the child anymore
  • A parent explaining to a child that the other parent doesn’t want to see them anymore when that isn’t true
  • A parent talking to a child about the divorce financial settlement in detail and worrying the child by telling them that they won't be able to afford to stay in the family home and won't have enough to eat because the other parent is too mean to pay child support or spousal maintenance

When the breakdown of a relationship occurs unexpectedly, or where there is a new partner involved, it can be hard to set aside your own emotions, especially when you are on your own with your child and the child seems willing to share your burdens, distress and worries. Talking to a family counsellor or divorce coach can help a parent find a resource to support them without having to overshare their feelings with their child.

Emotional abuse allegations in child custody and contact disputes

If you are concerned that your former partner is saying inappropriate things to your child then it doesn’t mean that you have to apply to court for a child arrangement order to sort out child custody and contact arrangements.

Sometimes the best place to air parenting concerns is in family mediation as a family mediator can help both parents understand the impact of the parental separation on the child and recommend parenting courses, books, family counselling or one of you exploring your feelings and emotions with a divorce coach.

If it isn’t possible to address your concerns about emotional abuse directly with your ex-partner or through family mediation with the support of your children law solicitor, you may need to apply to the family court for a child arrangement order.

When a court is asked to make a child arrangement order setting out the custody and contact arrangements for a child, the judge will make an order that is in the child’s best interests, after taking into account a range of statutory factors. Children law solicitors refer to these factors as the ‘’welfare checklist’’.

The welfare checklist includes the court looking at whether a child has suffered abuse (and this includes emotional abuse) or is at risk of abuse and how capable each parent is of looking after their child. A parent’s capabilities are not restricted to looking at their ability to look after their child’s physical needs but also their ability to meet their child’s emotional needs.

In some cases where allegations of emotional abuse are raised a parent may also allege that the other parent is suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder or has narcissistic tendencies. These allegations may need to be investigated by the Court and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS – an organisation who provide independent reports to family judges. These reports can be referred to as section 7 reports.). In addition, the family judge may ask for a psychological report to help the court make a decision on what child arrangement order is in your child’s best interests .

Legal advice on emotional abuse and child arrangement order proceedings

If you are worried about your child, or you have been falsely accused of emotional abuse and don’t know where you stand legally, its best to get specialist legal advice so you understand your rights and what orders the family court can make. For help with your children law questions and child custody and contact proceedings call the children law solicitors at OTS.

Online and London Family Law Solicitors and Children Lawyers

For specialist children law legal advice call the expert London family lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form .

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