Even though lockdown restrictions are starting to be eased, for some parents – separated from their children – their lives are far from returning to normal.
Parental alienation is a term growing in use and is being recognised more frequently than ever in cases involving disputes about children. In cases where there are children and the relationship between the parents breaks down, and they are unable to agree arrangements, it is well known that the courts invariably stipulate how much time a separated parent can have with his or her children.
The Child Arrangements Orders have been severely tested for some of our clients during the lockdown period on the pretext that it has not been safe for the separated parent to spend time with their children.
The courts have a duty to try everything possible to enable children to have a relationship with both their parents after separation unless it is not safe for them.
I first wrote about parental alienation here. Parental Alienation can occur when the child is psychologically manipulated by one parent against the other.
Sometimes, if the children have experienced domestic abuse and high conflict between their parents they may align themselves with one parent, often expressing reluctance to spend time with the other.
It is thought that this happens when the children have divided loyalties and find it easier to “split”. This is believed to occur as the child’s protection mechanism kicks in to try and avoid further conflict. The lockdown restrictions have provided a perfect storm for more such cases to arise.
However if a Child Arrangement Order is in place, but being deliberately manipulated to prevent the separated parent seeing their children, we may need to seek the Court’s determination whether this is the case, on the grounds of acting reasonably in light of the government’s many twists and turns of its ongoing guidance over Covid-19.
Sadly, I think the number of parental alienation cases is set to continue to rise. However, even if you are being prevented physical contact with your children remember not even Covid-19 should stop arrangements to allow video or phone calls with your children.
When a child refuses to go willingly to see the other parent, professional psychologists or psychiatrists are sometimes engaged to establish the root of that reluctance, and they may conclude that it is the behaviour of the parent with care that has consciously or subconsciously “alienated” the child from the absent parent. In some cases, it will be obvious and intentional behaviour that leads to this reluctance. Those are the less complex cases. Where it is unintended and subconscious, things are rather more complex.
There have been many papers written about this subject and yet it remains one of the most difficult for our courts to resolve satisfactorily. There are really only a limited number of approaches that a court can take when faced with a true parental alienation scenario. The first is to make orders for contact, try and enforce them, and as an absolute last resort make an order that the child lives with the “absent” or “alienated” parent. The second approach often involves therapy for the parents, the whole family and the child, usually with psychologists or psychiatrists.
In the meantime, well before a clinical diagnoses of parental alienation takes place remember children have the right to maintain a relationship with both parents, where it is safe to do so.
Zoom might not be the same as a cuddle, but it’s better than silence.
If you are affected by similar issues or would like to have a related discussion in confidence, please call me on 020 7091 2869 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The above is accurate as at 14 July 2020. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.