Separating Parents Beware: Don’t conflict your child.
Family Law Solicitors – Gosforth, Newcastle and Sunderland
If you’ve separated (or are separating) from the Mother or Father of your children, you’d be well advised to take note of new guidelines that are being rolled out by Cafcass – the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – from Spring 2018. The so-called ‘High Conflict Pathway’ aims to combat ‘Parental Alienation’ – a phenomenon which is increasingly being recognised as a form of psychological abuse.
‘Parental Alienation’ refers to the willful attempt, by a separating (or separated) parent, to persuade a child to exclude their other parent from their life. Some may argue that this isn’t abuse per se, and that a certain amount of animosity is to be expected between separating couple; however, there is a clear distinction between the bitterness which is in many ways endemic to separation and this insidious kind of scheme.
The Family Court, when dealing with applications concerning children, refer to a ‘welfare checklist’ – which focusses Judge’s minds on the needs of the child at the heart of proceedings. Unsurprisingly, from a welfare perspective, major red flags will arise from any suggestions that the child is at risk of ‘harm’, or is being ‘abused’ by their caregivers.
For many separating parents, the most obvious connotations of ‘harm’ or ‘abuse’ are the physical or sexual harms which are often sensationalised in the headlines; instances of emotional or psychological harm are far easier to overlook – in part because they are less easily identified – but Cafcass’ latest guidance suggests that, in many ways, they should not be treated any less seriously.
Alienation is a conscious decision – something calculated to fulfil the parent’s selfish agenda, rather than serve the child’s needs. When considering when – and for how long – a child should spend time with each parent, the Courts generally take the view that it is in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with both of their parents, unless there are safeguarding reasons to limit the relationship. With this in mind, adults are expected to put their animosity aside in order to realise what is best for the child.
Cafcass’ latest guidance suggests that there could be dire consequences for parents who fail to prioritise their child’s needs in this respect. Parents found to be manipulating their children may find themselves before a Court facing professional recommendations that their contact with the child should be significantly reduced, if not suspended entirely. What’s more, in an extreme case, the suggestion is that this may need to be a permanent measure.
Whilst it is arguably quite easy to infer a punitive purpose for this guidance, Cafcass’ overall enterprise is a child-focused one. Parents will be given the opportunity to complete a therapeutic programme (‘positive parenting’) in an effort to convince them of the need to change their ways.
Given the prevalence of parental alienation – believed to be present in approximately 15% of the cases which appear before the Family Courts – the new guidance has the potential to affect a huge number of families across the country. If you are concerned that about your ex-partners attitude towards you is affecting your relationship with your children, you may want to consider seeking specialist advice.
Contact the Emmersons Solicitors Family Law Team to discuss your situation.
For further information and a ‘Next Steps’ Divorce Advice Session.
Book your ‘Next Steps’ Family Law Advice Session at our Newcastle office: 0191 284 6989
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