What is parental alienation?
As London children solicitors, parents often ask us about parental alienation. Some parents do not know about the concept of parental alienation. However, they are able to describe the problem. Other parents have done plenty of online research and diagnosed parental alienation. Top London children solicitors think that self-diagnosis of parental alienation is as dangerous as not recognising parental alienation.
Defining parental alienation
Parental alienation is a difficult concept to define. Parental alienation is a very subjective condition. After all, normally one parent disputes that parental alienation has taken place whereas the other parent vehement that it has not.
Top London children solicitors and children experts involved in the family court process have described parental alienation in a variety of different ways. Recently a judge, Lord Justice McFarlane, described parental alienation as:
"The turning of the mind of a child against a parent by the other parent, either deliberately or inadvertently, resulting in the child holding a wholly negative view of the other parent and that negative view not being warranted by the other parent’s behaviour to the family or in the parent – child relationship."
Parental alienation remains a hotly contested topic, not least because statistically more mothers are the primary carers of children after a separation or a divorce. Therefore the ‘other parent ‘who complains of parental alienation is statistically the father of the child. Furthermore, what one-parent classes as a negative view of the other parent or the justification for the child’s views is disputed.
How does a court assess parental alienation?
If a parent is alleging that their child has been turned against them, then the family court can decide to hold a preliminary court hearing. This is called a finding of fact hearing. If a judge makes a finding of fact about the behaviour of a parent this may be heavily influential in the eventual court contact orders that are made in relation to the child.
If the court holds a finding of fact hearing and the court concludes that parental alienation has or has not taken place this is not the end of the children court proceedings. The court will list a further court hearing, referred to by the best London children law solicitors, as a welfare hearing. At the welfare hearing, the judge decides what custody and access (now known as child arrangement orders) are in the best interests of the child.
Independent assessments of parental alienation
If one parent is saying that the primary carer of the child is guilty of parental alienation and the other parent denies this or says the child holds wholly negative views about contact because of the other parent’s behaviour towards the child, then the judge has a difficult decision to make.
Some judges will listen to both parents, give evidence in court, assess their behaviour in the witness box and make a finding on whether, having heard from both parents, he or she believes parental alienation has occurred.
Other judges can take the view that they need the assistance of an expert to speak to both parents and the child and to form an opinion to assist the judge. An expert cannot tell a judge what he or she must do but the expert’s views and report can be highly influential to the judge.
Who carries out parental alienation assessments?
A judge orders assessments by:
• A court appointed family court advisor; or
• A court appointed psychologist; or
• A court appointed psychiatrist; or
• A social worker carrying out a section 37 assessment; or
• A court appointed family therapist.
An assessment cannot take place in court proceedings unless it has been authorised by the court.
Impact of parental alienation
If parental alienation has taken place, it can affect a child for life. The child can suffer emotional harm from the parental alienation and the impact of not having a relationship with both parents.
As parental alienation can be very damaging to a child top London children solicitors recommend that:
• Parents get early expert help before allegations of parental alienation are made, for example, from a family therapist; and
• Parents take advice from the best London children solicitors on their legal options if one parent is refusing contact. A long delay in taking court proceedings may not be helpful to a child or to your case; and
• If court proceedings are started and experts get involved cooperate fully with their assessments as they will be highly influential to the judge; and
• How a parent presents themselves in their written statements and oral evidence to a judge can be highly influential. It is therefore important to present a balanced picture; and
• Even if a parent is refusing to agree to direct contact some form of contact, for example letters and presents, could be maintained until the court makes a decision on future contact arrangements; and
• Court proceedings can seem protracted but as your relationship with your child is at stake, it is important to persevere with the court process.
What orders can a judge make?
If a judge decides that parental alienation has taken place, the following orders can be made:
• A further welfare court hearing to decide on contact orders;
• A court appointed expert assessment ;
• A child arrangements order so the other parent can have contact with the child. The contact could be built up gradually at the pace of the child;
• In extreme cases where a judge finds that the parental alienation has caused emotional harm the judge can change the primary carer of the child.
How can OTS Solicitors help you?
OTS Solicitors advise on all aspects of children and family law. London children solicitor, Behzad Sharmin has extensive experience in representing parents in cases involving allegations of parental alienation. Behzad secures children arrangement orders for access and contact in often highly charged emotional cases. Whatever your children law concern, Behzad Sharmin and the family law team at OTS Solicitors will work with you. They will help you find a solution and resolve parenting arrangements. Please get in touch with us on 0203 959 9123 to arrange an appointment to speak to one of our experienced children law solicitors.