The United Nations Rights of the Child is a set of commitments to supporting children to live a life which is free from harm and which enables them to enjoy relationships with everyone who loves them.

In the recent Judgment (Re S) the Court of Appeal set out its expectation in terms of the way in which children affected by alienation should be protected.

8.  As to alienation, we do not intend to add to the debate about labels. We agree with Sir Andrew McFarlane (see [2018] Fam Law 988) that where behaviour is abusive, protective action must be considered whether or not the behaviour arises from a syndrome or diagnosed condition. It is nevertheless necessary to identify in broad terms what we are speaking about. For working purposes, the CAFCASS definition of alienation is sufficient:

When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

To that may be added that the manipulation of the child by the other parent need not be malicious or even deliberate. It is the process that matters, not the motive.

This is a highly significant statement, which properly sets out the route by which the Court seeks to protect a child who is being alienated.  It clearly shows that whether the parent who is the cause of the alienation of the child is doing it deliberately or doing it unconsciously, the harm to the child is the same.

Further clarity is given in the following statement about residence transfer.

  1. Cases at the upper end of the spectrum of alienation place exceptional demands on the court. It will recognise that the more distant the relationship with the unfavoured parent becomes, the more limited its powers become. It must take a medium to long term view and not accord excessive weight to short-term problems: Re O (Contact: Imposition of Conditions) [1995] 2 FLR 124 per Sir Thomas Bingham MR at 129. It must, in short, take action when and where it can do so to the child’s advantage. As McFarlane LJ said in Re A (Intractable Contact Dispute: Human Rights Violations) [2013] EWCA Civ 1104; [2014] 1 FLR 1185 at 53:“53. The conduct of human relationships, particularly following the breakdown in the relationship between the parents of a child, are not readily conducive to organisation and dictat by court order; nor are they the responsibility of the courts or the judges. But, courts and judges do have a responsibility to utilise such substantive and procedural resources as are available to them to determine issues relating to children in a manner which affords paramount consideration to the welfare of those children and to do so in a manner, within the limits of the court’s powers, which is likely to be effective as opposed to ineffective.”

Contrary to what some have said in recent months, the Court is the place where power and control over a child by a parent who is unwell or who is simply determined to drive the other parent out of the child’s life, should be dealt with.

The statement that the more distant a relationship with an unfavoured parent becomes, the more limited its powers become, is a welcome recognition of the need to act early in such cases.

The final part of the summary of this Judgment, sets out that early action is essential and that it is not necessary to wait for serious harm to occur before action is taken.

13. In summary, in a situation of parental alienation the obligation on the court is to respond with exceptional diligence and take whatever effective measures are available. The situation calls for judicial resolve because the line of least resistance is likely to be less stressful for the child and for the court in the short term. But it does not represent a solution to the problem. Inaction will probably reinforce the position of the stronger party at the expense of the weaker party and the bar will be raised for the next attempt at intervention. Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to long term welfare at the forefront of its mind and wherever possible to uphold the childand parent’s right to respect for family life before it is breached. In making its overall welfare decision the court must therefore be alert to early signs of alienation. What will amount to effective action will be a matter of judgement, but it is emphatically not necessary to wait for serious, worse still irreparable, harm to be done before appropriate action is taken. It is easier to conclude that decisive action was needed after it has become too late to take it

In all, the points set out, offer greater clarity on how the Court can manage a case where a child is seen to be rejecting a parent without justification and offers a road map for dealing with the most difficult cases, which are seen when a parent is unconscious of what they are doing, but nevertheless harmful in their actions.

A child has a right to an unconscious experience of childhood. Unfortunately in too many cases of alienation, that childhood is absorbed into the world of the influencing parent, who plays out their own unresolved issues.  This kind of behaviour is widespread and is actually endorsed by ideology, which promotes the idea that a child’s welfare is synonymous with the rights of its mother.

A child is an independent sovereign being.  A child’s welfare is promoted by enabling that child to live free of influence, other than that which is positively aimed at enabling the child to grow healthily in mind and body.  Sadly for too many children in alienation cases, by the time it is recognised that harm has been done, the child’s mind has been colonised with the unresolved issues of a parent.  This forcing upon a child of feelings and experiences which do not belong to them, is undertaken in what is called the inter-psychic relationship, which in these circumstances, is the interaction between the mind and psyche of a parent and a vulnerable child.

A child whose mind has been colonised in this way, is left little in the way of their own independent thoughts.  Sadly, some celebrate this, the phrase ‘now he/she knows how bad her father really is‘ is one  I have heard many times, in cases where a child has been systematically influenced in the inter psychic relationship to the point where they begin to reflect back to the influencing parent, the behaviours that the parent is longing to see.  Unfortunately, many parents in these circumstances, usually but not always mothers, are supported in their distorted beliefs by campaign groups, who uphold the idea that children cannot be influenced against a loving parent but only ever reject a parent, because of harm which is being done by that parent.

Protecting a child’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood is the work which is done by those of us who are involved in this space. It is not easy, due to the mental ill health of some parents and the fixated and obsessed behaviours of others. Surrounding this work is a highly toxic arena of people with distorted ideas and obsessive points of view, who encourage those who are unwell or themselves fixated, into states of mind from which they can never heal.

I consider that what the Court said in this judgment is to be welcomed. It offers strong guiding principles which protects children from the harm that they suffer when they are forced to use the defence of psychological splitting.

When the major concern is children’s right to an unconscious experience of childhood, the world we work in immediately becomes a safer place.

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Parental separation, alienation and splitting: Healing beyond reunification

Separacija roditelja, otuđenje i oporavak djeteta: Razvoj standarda dobre prakse

Exciting news about the EAPAP 2020 Conference will be available shortly.  The Scientific and Organising Committee are working hard on the rescheduling which will take place this year.  Check back for details.