Parental Alienation is a real thing and is well recognised in the family courts as something that happens and is particularly harmful to the child. It skews the child’s ability to form any and all sorts of relationships and is not limited to the failed relationship with the other parent. It is emotionally harmful to the child. There may be lots of parents who are worried about this particularly in light of the COVID 19 pandemic where parents have used the pandemic to cease all contact notwithstanding the government advice that children should still be ferried between both houses for the purposes of contact. On this note, any real complaint can only be levied if the non- resident parent has unsupervised direct contact with the child prior to the lockdown.
From the cases that have been heard in the family courts on parental alienation there are some consistent factors which you will find when alienation maybe a real thing;
- The child hasn’t seen their non-resident parent in a while
- the attitude of the child to seeing the non-resident parent prior to no contact was positive and then abruptly changed.
- the mother cannot provide an explanation for the change in the child’s attitude towards the non-resident parent.
What is essential in cases that are being run as parental alienation cases is that “findings” are secured as soon as possible against the resident parent. Findings are judgements made by the court after having heard and seen evidence in a trial. The sort of findings you would want seen made in order to secure a finding that it is more likely than not that there has been parental alienation is:
- The child’s relationship has not been consistently promoted by the non-resident parent.
- The resident parent was not in a position to promote the relationship between the child and the non-resident parent.
- The resident parent had alienated the child against the non-resident parent.
- The non-resident parent is better able to promote a relationship between the other parent and the child if the child were to live with him.
- The child’s welfare is best met by a transfer in resident to the other parent.
There is little point in mounting a case of parental alienation if the client does not also seek a change in residence. They pretty much go hand in hand.
Evidential considerations when running a case of Parental Alienation.
You should look at the evidence that exists to show the change in the child’s attitude, abrupt change in a matter of time when there is no apparent intervening factor. You would look at emails/ what’s app/ snap chat messages to prove this. The resident parent should be asked in the trial to explain why they think there is a change in attitude. The Judge would then assess whether this is plausible.
You can instruct an expert in parental alienation which was done in a recent case of Re H (parental alienation);  1 FCR 17. If you are privately paying then this will cost money. But it is worth considering if there is some real evidence of it. In the case of Re H, the expert described a situation in which the mother’s opinions about the father had been transferred to the child gradually over time and were now complete. The expert opined that the most likely explanation for this was alienation. She described the mother’s views as entrenched and the prognosis for any shift was unpromising if the child remained with her mother.
Particular observations about the case of Re H
In the case of Re H the expert report as detailed above gave a clear opinion that the child had been alienated against the father. The NYAS case worker also prepared a report making only a passing reference to the expert report. She had spoken once to the mother and father and gave a clear and unequivocal recommendation in the NYAS report that the child should live with the mother and have no contact whatsoever with the father. The NYAS report considered only the negative issues about the father and set out the mother’s criticisms of him with no consideration at all of the adverse role of the mother in the child’s life; no consideration was given as to the extent to which the mother might have alienated the child against the father. The report accepted the child’s wishes and feelings at face value and gave no consideration to the expert’s report. The NYAS case worker was challenged in cross examination by the barrister and she could give no explanation for 1) the failure in her report to raise the issue of a lack of time to complete her enquiries or to write a report; or 2) for the change in the recommendation being made.
The social worker also prepared a s37 report making only a passing reference to the expert’s report., The s37 report was critical of the father but not the mother and had no regard to the expert’s opinion and conclusions.
The parents gave evidence and the mother was very critical of the father.
The judge formed a very positive view of the father. It was clear to the judge that the child had a very good relationship with his father prior to the breakdown in contact. The court could discern no reason for the complete breakdown and collapse of their relationship other than the malign influence of the mother. It was plain to the court that the mother saw no benefit to the child of the father having a relationship. The father had not been blameless and had at times acted inappropriately but he had expressed remorse for this and the court considered this to be genuine.
Some general observations by me
Whilst litigation can be difficult and expensive, running a case of parental alienation really needs the specialism of a solicitor and barrister. There are very important and skilled questions that need to be put to the other witnesses in cross examination and sadly when people run their cases as litigant’s in persons they fail to do this and get the point across. Interestingly, in the case of Re H the mother was a LIP and the father was represented. It also is really the only shot you get at running this case and if you lose then you are stuck with a child who is alienated against you and probably some undesirable findings.