Alienating parents could lose access to children under new court guidelines

Mothers and fathers who attempt to turn their kids against the other parent could permanently lose access to their children, under a new scheme currently being trialled by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).

The scheme, described as “groundbreaking”, is designed to tackle the phenomenon known as ‘parental alienation’.

This is where a parent attempts to alienate a child against the other parent, possibly to benefit them in divorce and child custody proceedings.

Cafcass said around five per cent of the 125,000 cases it deals with each year involve some form of ‘parental alienation’.

From next year, new guidelines will be introduced for social workers to learn how to spot the signs of coercion, while the courts will be able to restrict access to children for those found to have alienated a child.

Sarah Parsons, Assistant director of Cafcass, said: “We are increasingly recognising that parental alienation is a feature of many of our cases and have realised that it’s absolutely vital that we take the initiative.

“Our new approach is groundbreaking.”

Anthony Douglas, Cafcass chief executive, added: “I think our increasing awareness of the damage to children – it’s invisible but often causes them profound emotional harm – and the fact that the cases in court often stretch for months and months, which adds to the damage.

“There are clear signs, we have checklists and staff are trained to recognise that.

“So if a child does not want to see another parent, perhaps there will be no good reason and the other parent has behaved impeccably, that’s a clear sign alienation is happening. Or if a child uses language that is clearly not a child’s language.”

Jerry Karlin, director of charity Families Need Fathers, said: “This is very welcome news and we trust a measure of Cafcass’s good faith in this area.

“Parental alienation is identified as the single biggest issue among those who come to Families Need Fathers seeking help.

“The demonising of a parent, usually by the one with whom the child lives, has long been recognised as damaging the child not only at the time of separation but reaching into his or her adult life. It is not ‘normal’.

“We have pressed for many years for Cafcass and others involved in the family law process to inform themselves of the many faces of parental alienation but also stiffen their sinews in dealing with it.”

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Alison Green
Alison joined Mackrell Turner Garrett in 1989 and qualified as a solicitor in 1991, becoming a partner in the firm in 2010.