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How do you prove parental alienation in the UK?

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The UK courts often fail to recognise parental alienation as genuine cases of significant emotional abuse, and instead regularly refer to it as “implacable hostility”. Some parents believe this waters down the courts approach and reduce the measures it is prepared to take to prevent it from continuing. This article looks at parental alienation, and how you can prove it is taking place to the court and to CAFCASS.

What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation refers to a situation in which the parent with care turns their child against the non-resident parent, having the result of the child rejecting all contact. Although there is no formal legal definition, CAFCASS describes it as “when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”.

In 2016, there was a petition created on the government’s petitions website asking for a law to be introduced recognising parental alienation as a criminal offence. Although the petition received 12,239 signatures, the Ministry of Justice responded by saying it did not believe criminal legislation was needed as the court already had the power to take effective action.

In other countries, such as the US, it is a recognised condition known as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). However, in the UK, there is much debate between medical and psychological experts as to whether this conduct can be considered a syndrome. As a result, it is often not treated with the gravity it deserves.

Alienating behaviours include (but are not limited to):

  • Negative attitudes
  • Communications and beliefs that denigrate, demean, vilify, ridicule, or dismiss the non-resident parent
  • Conveying false stories or beliefs to, and withholding positive information from, the child about the other parent
  • The absence of positive attitudes or behaviours of the child towards the non-resident parent

Why do I need to prove parental alienation?

If you are going through the child arrangements process and make allegations surrounding parental alienation, then the court will require evidence to back up your claims. In addition, you will also need to demonstrate that the negative pattern of behaviour is harming your child. Proving something you have generally only experienced by being on the receiving end of, such as your child’s refusal to have contact with you, is difficult. Because then it becomes one person’s word against the other, with the child backing up the alienating parent. So how do you prove parental alienation?

If your child visits a therapist or counsellor, then they may be able to provide a report to the court about any observations. This could include any signs of parental alienation displayed by the child. In addition, family, friends, neighbours, or others, such as your child’s teacher, may have witnessed your ex denigrating you in front of the child. However, they must be willing to provide a witness statement and attend court if necessary. Also, depending on what they witnessed and how they are related to you, this may affect the weight attached to the evidence they impart.

You may be able to introduce social media posts that were accessible to the child or document things that your ex has said in public posts. If your child is old enough to have their own social media account, it may be possible to use their posts as evidence if they are relevant and demonstrate the way they see you.

Any way you can introduce your ex’s own words as evidence is likely to help your case. Angry messages from your ex are particularly effective at proving parental alienation, particularly when your child repeats the same words used in your ex’s messages, texts, or emails.

How does a court deal with parental alienation?

The court must assess the facts of the case and the evidence provided in order to determine whether alienating conduct is present, and if so, the effect it has had on the child. It will also take into account the orders required to preserve the child’s welfare and what is in their best interests.

In the most serious cases, courts have ordered children to change residence from living with the alienating parent to the parent who has been on the receiving end of such behaviour. However, while these decisions have been made with good intentions, it has not always been successful and, sadly, many times, presented more of a disruption for the child.

What can I do if I think my child is experiencing parental alienation?

As we’ve discussed above, proving parental alienation is hugely difficult because of its insidious nature. But if you suspect your child is being discouraged from seeing you, then you should consider taking the following steps:

  • Keep a clear confidential record of everything you observe that doesn’t seem right
  • Document your visits and log requests made by the other parent. A parenting app may be useful here, and allows records to be kept of the contact you have with the other parent and any missed contact
  • Stick to any agreements you have reached about contact, whether this was agreed informally with the other parent, during mediation, or by court order. If the agreement is not adhered to by the other party, keep a log as evidence. You will be able to use this in court, if necessary.
  • Maintain an open relationship with your child so they feel comfortable telling you things without being pressed to do so.
  • Seek legal advice if you suspect this is happening to your child and you are struggling to control the situation.

What are the effects of parental alienation on the child?

A child aligning themselves with one parent against the other is emotionally damaging and unhealthy, both in the short and longer-term. Parents should help their children adjust to changes and promote their relationship with the other parent. While some parents may claim their children are taking the lead and their wishes and feelings should dictate whether contact takes place, these parents are abandoning their responsibilities by not helping. And in cases of parental alienation, actively choosing to steer their child into an intransigent, and ultimately damaging, position.

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