Are New Measures to Stop Parental Alienation in the UK Too Extreme?

Allegations of parental alienation during divorce are extraordinarily common.  It’s described as a “phenomenon where one parent poisons their child against the other is known as parental alienation, the ultimate aim of which is to persuade the child to permanently exclude that parent from their life.” It doesn’t matter if you are in a courtroom or therapist’s office, this complaint is universal during and after divorce. At court, it’s actually surprising not to hear this complaint made by someone.

Back and Forth Accusations

For example, let’s say a little girl doesn’t want to sleep over or spend time with her Dad.  He accuses Mom of purposely manipulating their daughter with the goal of ruining their relationship. Mom responds by claiming their daughter doesn’t like spending time at Dad’s for a variety of reasons (he drinks, watches TV all the time, doesn’t pay attention to her, etc.) Mudslinging ensues and it becomes increasingly difficult for the Judge to get to the truth.  Now, a new program in the UK is attempting to eliminate parental alienation, with severe consequences.

According to an article in the Guardian, below are some of the (potentially concerning) highlights of the “groundbreaking” program being introduced by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service or Cafcass: 

·       Divorcing parents could be denied contact with their children if they try to turn them                      against their former partner.

·       Cafcass said it had recently realized parental alienation occurred in significant numbers of              the 125,000 cases it dealt with each year and estimate to occur in 11-15% of divorces.

·       Parents are given the chance to modify their behavior through intensive therapy. For those            parents failing to respond to treatment, their children will not be allowed to live with them.

·       The alienating parent may be permanently banned from any contact with their child.

·       Parental alienation occurs almost exclusively when parents are separating or divorcing,                  particularly when legal action is involved.

·       It is recognized as a form of parental psychological abuse and family violence.

·       It occurs on a spectrum from mild to extreme, all of which are damaging to children.

More Information Needed

While we agree that parental alienation is a serious problem, a program like this one is not without issues.  One concern that merits close attention is the way in which Cafcass will identify and verify actual cases for inclusion in their program.  As we mentioned above, allegations of parental alienation are commonplace during divorce; that doesn’t mean it’s actually present.  Allegations could be baseless or without merit.  Wrongly accused parents might find themselves in a program that could result in their losing contact with their child if they don’t “respond favorably” to treatment.  That consequence alone warrants a close examination of their screening process.  

We’re not sure what to make of this study and will be monitoring it closely.  If proven successful, it may not be long before a similar program finds its way to the U.S.