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Law Articles

Parental Alienation – an issue for the court to determine 29/09/2023

CAFCASS, the government body tasked with assisting the courts in matters relating to children, defines parental 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”.

In June 2021 the Observer newspaper first reported on the use of “parental alienation experts” in family court hearings. The article highlighted concerns that parental alienation was being raised in court proceedings as a litigation tactic by the perpetrators of abuse and in many cases this eventually resulted in children being removed from their mothers.

A mother who was accused of perpetuating parental alienation against a father has recently won an appeal to overturn a District Judge’s decision to instruct a psychological expert to assess both parents and children in her case. A senior judge held that the court had been wrong to order such an assessment and for having done so without providing acceptable reasons or justification for the decision.

The successful appeal, heard at Watford Family Court, is significant because it follows new guidance issued by the president of the Family Division of the High Court in England and Wales, Sir Andrew McFarlane. The guidance states that, determining whether parental alienation has occurred should be a question of fact to be resolved by the court and not, as in this case, based on a diagnosis by a psychologist.

The two children in this case were aged 9 and 12 and lived with their mother, only having indirect contact with their father. An initial psychological assessment of the family made in April 2021 found that the mother did not have a mental health condition and that she sought to protect herself from the father. However, the father was “considered to have limited insight into his ability to think reflectively and empathetically about his children” and that he may use “coercive anger” to manage his feelings. The father claimed that the mother had alienated the children from him and an application to instruct a new expert was submitted. In permitting the new instruction the Judge approved a set of questions to be addressed by the psychologist including whether in their expert opinion parental alienation had occurred and, if it had, what the parents should do to remedy it.

The mother’s appeal was allowed, and it was noted that no facts had been found by the court in respect of parental alienation. Not only had the Judge in the case failed to consider several relevant factors, but he also failed to provide a judgment. It was also held that the Judge in this case had been entirely wrong to even order such an assessment.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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