Parental Alienation and the CAFCASS Child Impact Assessment Framework

What is parental alienation?

You may have heard of the term ‘parental alienation’, but what does it really mean?

Whilst there is no agreed definition, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) recognise it to mean: “when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”.

Examples of such behaviours can include:

  • One parent badmouthing and belittling the other parent to their child
  • Telling the child that the other parent does not love them as much
  • Limiting contact
  • Not allowing the child to talk about the other parent

This behaviour can be demonstrated by both men and women. Further, while alienation can be demonstrated by just one parent, this is often not the case. Both parents usually play a role and it is often a combination of child and adult behaviours and attitudes, which can lead to the child not wanting or refusing to spend time with one of their parents.

Regardless of the cause, these types of behaviours can understandably be very damaging for any child and if not avoided, should be resolved.

The role of CAFCASS

CAFCASS represents children in family court cases in England. They put forward the needs, wishes and feelings of children, making sure that their voices are heard in the family court.

They have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children going through the family justice system. Their Family Court Advisers (FCA’s) may be asked by the court to work with families and then advise the court on what they consider to be the best interests of the children.

CAFCASS are involved in three main areas of family law:

  • divorce and separation or ‘private law’, where parents or carers can’t agree on arrangements for their children
  • care proceedings or ‘public law’, where social services have serious concerns about the safety or welfare of a child
  • adoption, which can be either public or private law

In the last year, CAFCASS has developed guidance to assist with assessing the impact of parental alienation on children, amongst other factors, which may occur with parental separation.

Their updated Child Impact Assessment Framework allows for parents who are alienating their children to work with CAFCASS to address their behaviour, and make the necessary and positive changes for the benefit of their children.

Further, CAFCASS work with separated parents to help them understand the impact of separation on their children, and the support that their children may need in order to recover from it.

During the court process, CAFCASS, through the designated FCA, will assess whether it is safe and in the best interests of the child to have contact with one or both parents. Their recommendations will take into account any work that has been completed by the parents.

They report their recommendations to the court for the judge to consider before they make their final decision about where the child should live, and whom the child should spend time with.

It is important to remember that in making their decision, the welfare of the child/children is the court’s paramount consideration (section 1(1) Children Act 1989).

If you are struggling with the impact of parental alienation, or you are demonstrating alienating behaviours yourself, please contact our Family department at familylaw@woodfines.co.uk who will be able to assist you.

–  Clare Wilkie