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Divorce and children

family law advice


On 10 February the House of Commons published a briefing paper on the subject of parental alienation, the paper is a welcome addition for families engaging in contested children proceedings.

What is parental alienation.

There is no legislative provision – either in the Children Act 1989 as amended or elsewhere that specifically addresses the issue of parental alienation regarding private law matters, or states what should happen where it occurs.

Although there is also no single recognised definition for parental alienation, it describes a situation where a child has been coerced, manipulated or otherwise pressurised to align themselves against one parent by the other.

The briefing paper tries to explain what alienation looks like in practice, offering several behaviours that are indicators of the potential existence of alienation.

In our experience parental alienation can be devastating for the parent affected, grandparents and extend family members are also often impacted. There is consensus that alienating behaviours sit on a continuum of mild to severe, with varying impact. Examples of such behaviour might include the following:

  • Denigrating the other parent in front of the child;
  • Preventing the child talking about the other parent;
  • Not passing on letters, cards or gifts from the child to the other parent;
  • Limiting contact;
  • Promoting the idea that the other parent does not love them and is not interested in them:
  • Seeking to exclude the other parent from important activities, eg school events
  • Making the child scared of the other parent.

It is also our experience that alienation is an issue that is often raised by the parent who lives away from the family home and is often not obvious or clear cut.

The Briefing

Although short the briefing paper has a number of useful sections offering sources of information, advice and signposting existing services for the parent experiencing alienation.

The view of the Children and Family Court Advisory & Support Service (Cafcass)

Cafcass have viewed parental alienation as abusive and highly damaging. Cafcass assert that children growing up surrounded by high levels of unresolved conflict, are showing profound and long-lasting effects.

Long term impact

Arguments have been made that everything from neurological and social development, to children’s success in education, personal relationships and even to the long-term success in a working environment, can be jeopardised by long term exposure to unresolved conflict.

There are parallels with the nature v nurture psychological arguments to these views, however what we know from working first-hand with clients and families coping with relationship breakdown, is that there is significant distress and anxiety experienced by children witnessing their parents arguing endlessly. This is particularly pertinent when children are aware that arguments between their parents focus on the children themselves.

Views of the Judiciary

Mrs Justice Parker commented that parental alienation “distorts the child’s relationship not only with the parent but with the outside world.”

Lady Butler-Sloss observed “If the parents have a corrosive end to their marriage, they are quite unable sometimes to recognise that a child loves both parents. What children want is for parents to part amicably so they can have a life with both parents.”

Here at Maguire Family Law we consider that robust judicial control and case management is key to ensuring that all the relevant issues are explored and the personal specific situation each child is experiencing is fully understood.

The approach of the court and Cafcass

The approaches of the court and Cafcass are to a certain extent entwined. The child impact assessment framework (CIAF) was developed to allow Cafcass officers to assess how children may experience parental separation. The assessment is triggered in the event of:

  • Domestic abuse where children have been harmed directly or indirectly, for example from the impact of coercive control.
  • Conflict which is harmful to the child such as a long running court case for mutual hostility between parents.
  • Child refusal resistance to spending time with one of their parents, this could be due to a range of justified reasons or Alternatively could be an indicator of the harm caused when the child has been alienated by one parent against the other.
  • Other forms of harmful parenting including factors like substance misuse on mental health difficulties.

Central to the Framework are safeguarding principles, and the impact on children of the above factors.

Moving forward – our view

It is paramount that balanced and consistent reporting to the court is achieved when Cafcass officers are advising as to what is in a child’s best interests.

Given the weight the court places on the recommendations of Cafcass, we hope that a consistent approach will be adopted and lead to improved outcomes for children caught in the middle of conflict.

Parental alienation can manifest itself in the wishes and feelings of a conflicted child. It is encouraging that as a result of the recent briefing paper, parental alienation has once again been brought directly to the fore for the agencies that are entrusted to protect our children.

We hope that the briefing papers publication, will act as a catalyst for a greater understanding of parental alienation, whilst having a positive impact for both the parents experiencing the often subtle behaviours associated with parental alienation, and the children who are too often caught in the middle of their parents behaviours.

For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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