What is ‘Parental Alienation’ and how can MKB Law help

Published 30 March 2020

Parental Alienation is the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other parent. Parental Alienation is normally found following divorce proceedings and often leads to difficulties in contact for the non-resident parent.  

It is often the case that the Resident parent believes their actions is in the child’s best interest. They often fail to understand the importance of the child’s relationship with the other parent and genuinely believe they are protecting the child. The resident parent is often motivated by revenge and is so focused on their desire to seek revenge they are unfortunately not prioritising the needs of the child and the right of the child to have a happy and meaningful relationship with both parents.

Parental Alienation can take many different forms, but the end goal of the hostile parent is to make contact as difficult as possible and to destroy the child’s relationship with the non-resident parent. Some examples of parental alienation that the family law team in MKB Law have dealt with includes;

speaking negatively about the other parent to the child

reducing/controlling the child’s contact with the other parent

cancelling contact at the last minute

forbidding the child to talk about the other parent.

The impact this has on the child is extremely concerning – the child is growing up believing that their parent is bad and dangerous, and this can have a detrimental impact on the child’s mental health even in adult life.

The Family Court is often left with the responsibility of balancing the child’s right to have contact with both parents and ensuring the contact is in the child’s best interests and is safe. The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 enforces the child’s welfare being the paramount consideration. The Court will look at all circumstances and often seek the involvement of the Court Children’s Officer to speak to the child independently to obtain their views on contact. The ethos of the Children (NI) Order 1995 shows that the best interests of the child is central. It is the paramount consideration.  

In order to ascertain what is in the child’s best interests it is important to ensure the voice of the child is heard.  Decisions which impact on a child’s life should not be made without an awareness and understanding of how the child will respond. The children have to live with the decisions and what they entail.

There is a presumption in favour of contact and the Court will grant an Interim Contact Order to give the non-resident parent and the child a time to rebuild their relationship.  This will be monitored to ensure it is in the child’s best interests and is safe for the child. It is important to note that not all cases are parental alienation, there may be legitimate safeguarding concerns that need properly investigated before contact can occur.

However, it is often the case that, even with a Court Order, the hostile parent will continue to be implacably hostile.  The question therefore arises as to what exactly can be done when a Court Order is being ignored? This has caused some difficulties in the area and the options available to the Court are as follows; –

Transfer of the case from the Family Proceedings Court to the Family Care Centre.  It is important to be mindful of the possibility of parental alienation from the beginning of the proceedings to ensure the signs are not missed and to avoid any delay in getting contact up and running.  The main reason for a transfer of the case is due to the powers the Family Care Centre has open to them for a breach of a court order. The Family Care Centre can attach a penal notice to a court order which essentially means the hostile parent who is in breach of the order could be arrested.  However, this is never done. The Court will be mindful of the child in such circumstances and it is hard to justify the arrest of one parent.

Transfer of Residence.  In extreme cases the Courts have transferred the residence of the child from the hostile parent to the alienated parent.  Often in such cases the Court Children Officer may recommend such an order if they feel the child is being negatively impacted.

During the current Coronavirus crisis, our team have found that unfortunately a number of primary carers are taking advantage of the self-isolating government guidelines to deny contact to another parent.  The primary carer is often claiming an inability to facilitate contact even if the contact is capable of being exercised either directly or indirectly through daily telephone calls and FaceTime. Indirect contact is even more important now than ever to ensure contact continues in the best interests of the children.

The Family Law team at MKB Law is experienced at identifying parental alienation from the outset and will guide you through each step of the process.  We appreciate that this is a very difficult time for all parties, and we are fully trained Children Order Panel members who act in the best interest of the children.  

This article is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional legal advice.

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