Parental alienation appears to be being taken more seriously by courts, with the emotional harm to children being recognised and various ‘tools’ being used by the courts to ensure children are not alienated from an innocent parent.
Looking at parent forums, such as Netmums and Separated Dads, there are countless stories where one parent is refusing the children contact with the other. The non-resident parent is at a loss of what to do; cut off from children they may have previously seen on a daily basis, being told the children no longer what to see them, or even worse, being accused of abuse.
How exactly does a parent prove that they are being alienated by the other parent?
Parent alienation has no formal definition in UK, despite being recognised in family law cases for a long time.
Cafcas defines parent alienation 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”.
It is the responsibility of the court, Cafcas and the parent to prove whether there are alienating behaviours taking place. Once the facts have been established and the court has decided whether one parent has purposefully or subconsciously causing the alienation of the other, with no justifiable reason, a decision must be made as how to best proceed.
A recent case regarding a father looking to secure contact with his children, following a mother’s alleged campaign against him, highlights one option the courts can adopt in their ‘fight’ against a parent that has been alienating the other.
The case that took place in January this year, but who’s final judgement was only released recently, has had its option apparently work well in helping re-establish consistent contact between the father and his two children.
It was established that the mother had deliberately made decisions ignoring the father’s parental rights, in respect to the education, health and surname of the two children. It was also found that the mother had alienated the father and paternal grandparents, either through her behaviour, encouragement or emotional pressure towards the children, causing them significant emotional harm. As a result, the judge had ordered a suspended residence order.
Where parental alienation is found, one option is to transfer the residence of the children from the alienating parent to the other, if possible and if it is in the best interests of the child. This is obviously very disruptive to the child, and if significant emotional harm has been done, it can cause even more resistance from the child in re-establishing a relationship with the alienated parent.
In this case however, the suspended residence order meant the children remained with the mother but shared equal time with both parents. If the mother did not comply with the order, then the court would enforce the order and the children would have been transferred to the residence of their father.
In his final judgement, released recently, Judge Bedford stated:
“The children have, since 30 January 2019 enjoyed equal time with their Father, and their Mother, as per my order. I am satisfied the suspended residence order which I made has enabled the children to rebuild their relationships with their Father and paternal families and has provided the encouragement for the Mother to work with my Order. My final Order endorsed the continuation of the children spending their time equally in the care of their Mother and their Father and I have extended the suspended residence order for a further 6 months to prioritise the welfare of these two children and maximise their opportunities of growing up with a healthy relationship with both parents.”
The concept of a suspended residence order is not new, having been used for many years; becoming a more popular tool in cases where an alienated parent is looking to rebuild a relationship with their child that has purposefully been destroyed.
It allows for the children to remain living where they feel comfortable, without being uprooted from school and friends, but also ensures the alienating parent knows the final outcome for continuing any alienating behaviour. The alienated parent also knows that if the order is not followed, they will not have to endure further litigation to prove the behaviour or a lengthy battle to obtain a residency order. The court will also know that it has set in place an order with the best interests of the child at the heart, with an alienating parent having been given a chance to change their behaviour without further disruption and hurt for the children involved.
From the January case update, it is good to see that these orders are working and that the last resort is not having to be used.