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Tuesday 3rd October 2017

My ex is turning the children against me - what can I do?

Following a separation, most couples are able to plan between themselves how much time they will each spend with their children. However, as Sue Jury, family law expert with Rundlewalker in Exeter explains, there are occasions where this is not possible because one parent is unfairly trying to turn the children against the other. This is known as ‘parental alienation’, as Sue explains:

‘Parental alienation is a relatively new concept as far as the courts in the UK are concerned and goes beyond a parent simply being obstructive regarding arrangements for the children. It occurs where one parent tries to manipulate a child into believing bad things about the other parent so that they no longer want to see them or where false allegations are made to try to prevent contact occurring. In serious cases, claims or allegations of violence or sexual abuse might be made’.

In some countries, parental alienation is illegal. However, this is not the case in the UK which means that where it is occurring positive action needs to be taken, usually through the courts, to stamp it out as quickly as possible.

What can be done?
Where you know or suspect your ex is trying to turn your children against you, or is otherwise unreasonably stopping you from seeing them, it is important that you seek advice immediately. Your solicitor can discuss your options with you and help you gather as much evidence as possible to support what you believe is happening.

While discussing matters with your ex to try to resolve matters amicably is always encouraged, it may be necessary for you to apply to court for a child arrangements order if this proves to be impossible.

What will the court do?
In most cases involving children, the court reporting officer from CAFCASS will be instructed to prepare a report for the court to try and identify the issues and make a recommendation to the judge as to how matters should proceed.

In cases where parental alienation is alleged, the judge may need the assistance of a more experienced professional to help them in the decision-making process, such as a child psychologist.

If a court appointed expert confirms that parental alienation is happening, the expert may also make recommendations about how the children should be supported to enable the court to make arrangements for them going forward.

What orders can the court make?
The court can make any order that appears appropriate. In deciding what orders to make, the paramount consideration for the court will be the welfare of the children.

Where parental alienation is a factor, the court will want to ensure that any arrangements put in place will work and may keep matters under review for a while to make sure this is the case.

In extreme circumstances, the court can decide that it is not in the children’s best interests to spend time with a parent. While this is very rare, the court must consider the welfare of the children above all and if this means cutting contact then this is what the court will do. Getting legal advice early may reduce the risk of this happening.

Sanctions can be imposed on a parent who does not cooperate with the court process and any subsequent orders made; these include making the parent do unpaid work or paying legal costs. It is even possible for the court to order a parent to be imprisoned for contempt of court, although that is a very unusual step for the court to take.

If you need advice about parental alienation, or any other family law matter, please contact Sue Jury on 01392 209212 or email sue.jury@rundlewalker.com.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included here and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.