The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) are reported to be trialling a radical new approach to deal with the increasing problem of parental alienation, which could see parents being restricted, or in some cases, prevented from seeing their children.

What is parental alienation?

A divorce involving children can often be acrimonious and when the parents’ relationship is in a state of disrepair the children can be a major point of dispute. The courts have a specified system to deal with such disputes, aside from finances and the divorce itself, which often leads to arrangements agreed or a Child Arrangements Order being granted.

Parental alienation is different to this. It is internationally recognised as a distinctive form of psychological abuse that sees one parent poisoning their child against the other parent. As part of 125,000 cases that are dealt by the CAFCASS each year, they have identified parental alienation as a real problem and estimate that it is present in 11%-15% of divorces involving children.

A new approach

They have decided to take the initiative and tackle this problem with a ground-breaking approach. This new approach will see:

  • New guidelines (“the high conflict pathway”) for CAFCASS officers which will itemise the steps to take when they suspected parental alienation.
  • The introduction of a 12-week intense programme - Positive Parenting - to give parents skills to break their pattern of behaviour.
  • Psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts will be brought in to offer support.
  • If the abuse perpetuates, contact with the child will be limited to supervised visits.
  • Extreme cases will see care proceedings initiated and the parents potentially losing contact with their child.

This trial is certainly a radical approach, but CAFCASS believe this is necessary to prevent an increase in the toxic behaviour seen by parents going through a divorce.

There is a broad spectrum of behaviour involved in parental alienation, but all can be damaging to the child and this is why CAFCASS is being proactive.

The issuing of care proceedings and ultimately losing contact with their child is something that will grab the headlines, but will be limited to extreme cases. This approach is about warning the parents against behaviour that damages their child.

CAFCASS will soon be tooled with the skills and pathway to reduce the impact of parental alienation, and it will be interesting to see if disputes can be resolved without impacting children any more than it should.