It is not uncommon in parental disputes over arrangements for their children for one parent to allege that the other is alienating the children against them, in an attempt to stop them having contact with the children.
Obviously, such behaviour is quite wrong, adversely affecting not just the alienated parent, but also the children themselves, who might be denied a relationship with that parent.
However, the family courts have often been criticised for failing to deal with parental alienation, and letting alienating parents ‘get away with it’.
But a recent case demonstrates that the courts can take strong action to deal with the issue.
What is parental alienation?
Before we look at the case we need to consider exactly what is meant by the term ‘parental alienation’.
‘Parental alienation’ is not actually a legal term. It has no single fixed definition, but is generally taken to mean an ongoing pattern of behaviour by one parent that has the effect, intended or not, of undermining or obstructing a child’s relationship with the other parent.
Examples of such behaviour include displaying to the child negative attitudes towards the other parent, denigrating, demeaning, vilifying, ridiculing or dismissing the other parent, and withholding positive information about them.
In short, any behaviour that may encourage the child to reject or resist spending time with the other parent.
Note that sometimes the child will hold strong views of their own, irrespective of the parent’s behaviour. Obviously, such situations may need to be dealt with quite differently from a ‘straightforward’ parental alienation case.
Mother alienates father
So to the case, which concerned a couple who were never married, but had a child together in 2016.
The relationship ended when the child was born, and because of this the father did not get parental responsibility. Nevertheless, the father stated that he had a close relationship with the child, until about December 2020.
That was when the father approached the mother about being given parental responsibility.
The mother responded by stopping contact and telling the child that he would not be seeing the father again, making an untrue allegation that the father had inappropriately touched the child, informing the father that he might not be the biological father, and moving from Kent to Manchester, without telling the father.
In April 2021 the father applied to the court for disclosure of the mother’s whereabouts, a child arrangements order, and a declaration of parentage.
Father applies for change of residence
The mother failed to comply with a direction by the court for paternity testing, and an order that contact take place at a contact centre.
The court ordered a psychological report and a report from the local authority. These found that the mother had been actively attempting to alienate the child from his father by making false negative statements about the father, and that the child was starting to develop a negative view of his father, by being exposed to the mother’s negative views of him.
The father made an urgent application to the court for a change of residence, for the child to live with him rather than the mother, with whom he had lived since birth. The application was supported by both the child’s and the local authority.
The judge found that the child had suffered, and would continue to suffer, significant harm if he were to remain in the care of the mother, which outweighed the potential harm he might suffer from being removed him from his mother’s care.
Accordingly, the judge ordered that the child should move to the father’s care, pending a final hearing in the case.
The judge also ordered that the mother should have no contact with the child for two months, in order to ensure that there would be no disruption of the child’s ability to settle into the father’s home. Thereafter, any contact would be guided and assisted by the local authority.