CAFCASS develop response to high conflict cases and those of parental alienation

For separating parents, deciding where the children live and how much time they spend with their ex is often their first concern, but ultimately, can be hard to agree. In circumstances of conflict and emotion, a child may not wish to see the non-resident other parent and there are sadly circumstances where this is encouraged or facilitated by the resident parent, post-separation. Many non-resident parents in these circumstances, see themselves as alienated, ostracised and isolated.

To combat these adverse impacts on children, CAFCASS have developed the High Conflict Practice Pathway. CAFCASS state that this pathway will provide “… guidance, research and tools to practitioners so they can approach high-conflict cases consistently with an effective, evidence-based approach.” The new pathway addresses a variety of common features in these high conflict cases such as parental alienation, which is best seen as a broad spectrum of behaviours with varying impact.

Sarah Parsons, Assistant Director and Principal Social Worker for CAFCASS said, “Think of a child experiencing a separation, the mother or father bad mouthing, or withholding warmth and affection unless they agree with an argument. If it’s repeated it can have an invasive, intrusive effect on well being. A child can think the only way to stay safe is to side with one parent and reject the other.”

Professor Liz Trinder of the University of Exeter and Nuffield Foundation, has studied the court’s response to the enforcement of child arrangement orders, setting out with whom a child should live or the contact they should have with the non-resident parent. She thinks that the idea of parental alienation as a pattern of behaviours needs to be treated carefully, as the courts have a duty to consider the child’s best interests, which includes listening to what the children themselves say about their feelings. Professor Trinder states, “The problem with the alienation concept is that if your premise is the child has been brainwashed, it means you can’t trust what the child is saying to the court. So if you make an accusation of alienation it almost automatically casts suspicion on anything the child might say.”

Of course, the mere recognition of parental alienation or control against a non-resident parent does not mean that other possibilities won’t be explored and considered by CAFCASS. Children of separating parents might refuse to see the non-resident parent because of authoritarian or abusive behavioural issues, or perhaps because they feel instinctively very attached to one parent and feel a need to reflect misplaced” loyalty” to their resident parent.

If you would like to discuss issues relating to your children following the breakdown of your relationship, contact one of our expert solicitors today on 01234 88977 or 0207 177 9777 for a free consultation. Serving Bedford and London, our lawyers can help you with your family law matters.


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