I was recently asked whether a parent can lose ‘custody’ for parental alienation.
The short answer is, yes, this can happen, although it is important to understand a few points of law and legal practice in considering this question.
Who gets Custody?
The short answer is – no-one. Under the laws of England and Wales a child should have a relationship with both parents, where that is in the best interests of the child.
This normally involves a child living with one parent and arrangements for them to see and spend time with the other parent, for some children it means they spend time almost equally, with both parents.
Problems arise when parents cannot agree over the care of their children. and in extreme cases one parent tries to prevent the other having any kind of relationship with their child.
Parental Alienation Explained
There is no legal definition of parental alienation, although it could be described as being a situation whereby one parent undermines a child’s relationship with the other parent due to such negative, coercive and manipulative behaviour that the child has little to no hope of being able to enjoy a relationship with that parent.
This goes against the principle that a child has a right to have a relationship with both parents, as long as that relationship is safe and appropriate.
Parental alienation cases can arise where a parent makes allegations of abuse or harm against the other parent that are found to be false or exaggerated with the purpose of restricting or removing that parent from the child’s life.
In cases where there are concerns that parental alienation may be a feature, a guardian may be appointed for the child, to give them a separate voice in proceedings outside of either parents’ views.
A court may also consider the necessity of there being an assessment by a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist to assess the parents, the child or any other relevant person in the child’s life and could include observing sessions between the child and each parent.
Parental alienation can sometimes be clear and obvious; it can also be subtle and discreet. An expert would have to consider not only what each of the parents and the child said, but also consider their actions and behaviour in determining whether alienation was a feature and if so, the extent to which it could be overcome or addressed.
There have been reported cases whereby a child has been removed from the care of the parent who has caused the alienation and has been placed in the care of the other parent to ensure that that relationship is nurtured and can flourish.
The courts consider that any manipulation of a child is emotionally harmful, which in turn can lead to long standing difficulties experienced by the child as they grow up and the way in which they are able to form adult relationships.
Putting the child first
It is vital that in every family breakdown, the needs of the child are at the forefront of every parent’s mind. The need to have a relationship with both parents is vital to a child’s emotional wellbeing and development.
Whilst parents may be angry or upset at their former partner for the way the relationship ended, they have a duty to ensure that their children are protected from such emotions.
A parent who feels overwhelmed by their emotions should be advised to seek help or counselling to enable them to deal with those emotions away from their child, putting them in a better place to prioritise their child’s needs above all else.
About Catherine Edmonson
Catherine Edmondson is a family law solicitor with Woolley & Co and is based in Stoke on Trent. She is a member of Resolution, a trained collaborative lawyer and a member of the Law Society Family Law Panel.
Catherine advises clients on a wide range of issues from divorce and separation to financial settlements, cohabitation disputes and cases involving children. Catherine’s clients come from all over the UK. You can reach Catherine on 01782 367294 or via the Woolley & Co website.