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Sir Andrew MacFarlane, the President of the Family Division, last month published a landmark judgement in which he stated that there was a “need for rigour” when instructing psychologists to give expert evidence. He went on to say that tighter regulation in this area was a matter for Parliament.
There is growing concern in Family Law circles that so called “experts” who in reality may have no greater qualifications to make assessments than you or I, are being paid vast quantities of tax payers money to conclude that one parent has ‘alienated’ the other from the child or children of the family.
In many instances this has occurred when domestic abuse has been rife in the relationship against the parent with primary care and even sometimes against the child. However, the tools and safeguards in place are seemingly being abused by the perpetrators of domestic abuse when the opposing parent is seeking to protect the child or children from witnessing, or being a direct victim of, further abuse.
Even CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) who are supposed and intended to be the child or children’s representative in court are failing to safeguard the very demographic they exist to protect.
MP for Coventry North West, Taiwo Owatemi, describes how one of her constituents who had suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband, was then falsely accused of parental alienation by her husband simply because she sought to protect her child from further abuse. Even though CAFCASS was involved in the case, she reports that the court upheld the husband’s false claims after an “expert” allegedly and inaccurately deemed this to be the case with the result being that the child, an eight year old boy, was then sent to live with his father, a man who is alleged to have committed horrendous and long standing abuse against the mother whom he now no longer sees.
These cases are increasingly involving unqualified, self-appointed “experts” with few or no qualifications allowing them to come to this conclusion. Only truly qualified, jointly or court appointed experts should be instructed to draw conclusions in such matters.
Ms Owatemi went on to say that in her experience all the cases she had heard of had been unfairly skewed against women and she thought that this was unheard of by the general public. She reported that a woman constituent told her that she had spent £400K on lawyers’ fees and she still went on to lose child residence because her wealthy former husband was able to afford more expensive lawyers. She went on to add that in all the cases she had heard of in respect of false claims of parental alienation from one parent to another, it was always the women who went on to lose their children.
The role of CAFCASS is to safeguard children, and it is instructed to look after up to 140,000 children every year. It is the largest employer of qualified social workers in England. With a budget of now some £140 million intended to be used for this purpose, the most basic requirement imposed upon them is that they get it right in terms of representing children, being their voice at court, listening to them and protecting them from perpetrators of domestic abuse, not rehousing children alongside them. Serious reform of the court’s, as well as CAFCASS’ practices, is urgently needed to prevent further injustices from happening to children, effected by bodies paid to protect them.
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.Back to Law Articles