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Parental alienation – why spotting the warning signs early is so crucial

When couples separate, the impact on their children can be huge - particularly when one parent deliberately tries to sabotage the other parent's relationship with their children

This is not just parents being difficult with other. At its most serious, this is known as parental alienation and a recent court case, albeit extreme, underlines just how damaging it can be.

Now the Bristol Family Court judge involved, Judge Stephen Wildblood, has called for early intervention when parental alienation is suspected or identified, warning of long-term emotional harm to children and potentially irreparable damage to the relationship with their parents if this doesn't happen.

What is parental alienation?

The Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) recently defined parental alienation as 'when a child's resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent'.

What happened in the recent case?

A father who initially applied to have contact with his children in 2011, ultimately withdrew court proceedings when it became apparent they had been so alienated from him by their mother that living with him would never be feasible.

He did this to prevent further distress to the children after years of legal battle including 36 different court hearings.

'Bad choices, deeply harmful to the children'

Judge Wildblood condemned the mother's conduct, pointing out that 'parental responsibility….requires her to act in the best interest of her children….to promote the relationship between these children and their father'.

He added that 'she had adult choices to make; the choices she made were bad ones and deeply harmful to the children'.

Mitigating the impact of separation

Taking legal advice at an early stage of separation can be hugely helpful, particularly if you are concerned that parental alienation could become an issue.

All the research shows that the greater the hostility between parents, the greater the impact on children so achieving the best possible and most amicable break-up is in everyone's interests.

Specialist solicitors can help couples achieve this by helping with parental plans and recommending therapeutic help.

Of course, sometimes the hostility progresses to the court room, often at enormous emotional and financial cost to all those involved.

Battling 'for the heart and mind of a child'

Family Court Judge Clifford Bellamy who adjudicated on another case of parental alienation last year involving a couple fighting over their only son, has provided some salutary advice.

He said: "The father told me that he has spent in excess of £200,000 on this litigation since 2008. The mother has spent over £120,000. That is an eye watering amount of money to spend in a battle to win the heart and mind of a child.

"These parents now need to invest their resources in trying to undo the immense harm that has been caused to this very likeable young man.

"They need to do that in partnership. (The child) needs to see them working together for his best interests. It is clear he has seen very little of that in the past."

For help and advice, please contact Wards Solicitors' Family Law and Divorce Team

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