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Call for change: Parental alienation remains a ‘devasting problem in the UK Courts’

In the United Kingdom, a silent crisis is unravelling within the family court system, as recent statistics reveal that 42% of family court cases involve parental alienation, with children under the age of five being the most affected.

This issue, characterised by coercive and controlling behaviours, results in children emotionally severing ties with loving parents, often without any justifiable reason.

In this pressing societal concern, the charity “Parental Alienation Awareness” stands as a beacon of hope, dedicated to raising awareness, educating, and supporting those grappling with parental alienation while striving to promote equality in parenting.

Parental Alienation Awareness are a registered charity that was founded in 2020. They are an advocacy and signposting service that also works with other agencies, charities and professional​s in order to educate and raise greater awareness. They believe that they can achieve more by working with others who share their goals and values.

Their team is built up of parents who have personal experience of Parental Alienation and also other professionals that have a background in rights and equality advocacy. Clare Latchem, from Parental Alienation Awareness, said:

“The charity was created through a desire to change the shocking and devastating reality of how common parental alienation is in the UK and the lack of training, education, and awareness there is around this issue.

Our core aims are to raise awareness, educate and support those affected by this issue. We also want to promote a culture of equality in parenting and lessen the impact on children and their families experiencing family breakdown.”

Parental alienation involves a set of coercive and controlling behaviours that lead to a child emotionally cutting off from a “good enough” parent who poses no safeguarding risk to them. It is a form of domestic abuse involving the psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect, or hostility towards the targeted parent and/or their other family members.

Ruth Hetherington from McAlister Family Law recently spoke about parental alienation in Today’s Family Lawyers Private Law conference in September. With no legal definition of parental alienation there has been much discussion in recent weeks on the topic; Hetherington emphasised the need to “push the courts to grasp these issues from the outset” and said to “be alive to the distinction between a parent who is opposed to contract, and a child who is implacably opposed to contact”. Latchem continued:

“During separation and divorce a parent could be forced to make a court application to see their child/children. Currently there are around 40,000 cases that go through the family court system each year and 42% of these applications have a child under five years old. Cases are taking approximately two years to conclude and during this time the child or children ally themselves strongly with one parent (the preferred parent) and reject the relationship with the other parent (the alienated parent) without legitimate justification.”

The charity have found that there are common themes that a coercively controlling parent will exhibit to alienate and manipulate their child/children. There are:

  • Refusing or returning gifts, letters, and photographs sent to the child/ren, or reporting harassment for gifts being sent.
  • Interfering with telephone calls and contact arrangements
  • Contacting the child school to prevent the other parent receiving communications from the child/rens school.
  • Badmouthing the other parent/family member to the child or authorities
  • Encouraging the child/ren to call the other parent by their first name or changing the child/rens name to remove the association with the other parent.
  • Creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, sick or saying that they do not love the child/ren
  • Moving to different county or taking the child aboard

Latchem said that the courts do not enforce any sanctions for this coercively controlling behaviour, and less than “2% of court orders are ever enforced”. To find out more and support the charity, visit their website.

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