Parental Alienation campaigners meet with High Court Judge in the Family Division

The ongoing campaign to tackle the issue of Parental Alienation moved forward again last week. Following on from a previous meeting with the Justice Minister Paul Maynard MP, a group of cross-party politicians and campaigners; Neil McEvoy AM, Ivan Lewis MP and Andrew Bridgen MP, met with Sir Stephen Cobb – High Court Judge in the Family Division to discuss Parental Alienation. Sir Stephen is a member of the Ministry of Justice Safeguarding Inquiry Panel [i] and the architect of the latest proposals from the President of the Family Division[ii] – Sir Andrew McFarlane – on Private Law.

A pre-meeting of the delegation had identified a number of important issues that impacted on the Family Justice system

  • Courts must recognise parental alienation as a real issue
  • The MoJ inquiry panel membership failed to cover all perspectives –with no representation from Wales OR from organisations working with men – particularly those experiencing domestic abuse
  • False allegations continue to cause concern
  • All forms of domestic abuse must be addressed including coercive control, which is a component of Parental Alienation.

The meeting with Sir Stephen Cobb took place in the Royal Courts of Justice and explored all of the points on the agenda. The campaign group shared a strong message with a solutions focused approach that places the child first and intervenes at the earliest point to protect children from being abused and ‘turned’ against an otherwise good and loving parent or grandparent. There was much agreement between all parties of the need for early intervention and of the harm to children, their parents and the wider family – from poorly resolved and protracted Court involvement.

The meeting also addressed the problem that Parental Alienation is not adequately defined in the way that – for example – domestic violence and abuse has been. Parallels with the way that Courts deal with domestic violence were explored with one possibility being the issuing of a Practice Direction to Courts to ensure consistency.

Sir Stephen was prepared to acknowledge that he had seen ‘alienating behaviours’ in his own practice as a barrister and latterly Family Court judge, and agreed that the time was ripe for more action on Parental Alienation than had taken place in the past. Sir Stephen also emphasized the focus on early intervention and deflecting the less conflicted cases away from the door of the Court, which was at the heart of his proposal for the creation of a Supporting Separating Families Alliance. This Alliance is one of the key planks in his Private Law proposals for the President of the Family Court Division.

International comparisons about the treatment and recognition of parental alienation were discussed – including the criminalisation of this form of abuse in some countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Israel.

Much still needs to be done to ensure that children and families are protected from the insidious form of abuse that is Parental Alienation. Even when Courts act to tackle the abuse Orders are often ignored or twisted by the controlling parent which undermines the child/parent relationship and causes many parents to give up in despair when they see no way to resolve matters. Enforcement of Court Orders continues to be a problem, with less than 1% of applications ending in an Order for enforcement. Sir Stephen had also seen this as a key issue, as it was one of the areas that he’s covered in his proposals for the President. He stated that around 30% of cases coming to Court were returning ones which will need to be dealt with on a new ‘pathway’ to improve the way these cases are dealt with.   

Neil McEvoy Assembly Member for South Wales Central in the National Assembly for Wales stated:

“It was a useful meeting with Sir Stephen where we were able to put across the reality of parental alienation that I see so much of in my constituency casework. I welcomed the fact that Sir Stephen had recognised alienation directly in his work as a senior judge.

“There is much more that needs to be done and I’m now keen to ensure that helpful words from the judiciary turn into serious actions to improve a failing Justice system for all parents – but most importantly for the children who are rightly paramount in these matters.”

Note to Editor

Parental Alienation usually occurs in an acrimonious divorce or separation where a child ceases contact with the non-resident parent. This is despite there being no evidence of any abuse or harm and is frequently caused by the influence of the other parent. It is common for the child to seek to resume contact as a teenager or young adult when they leave home.

This can have a devastating long-term psychological impact on the child which continues into adulthood, and frequently leads to severe mental health problems for the alienated parent.

In a ground-breaking development, the World Health Organisation have recently adopted Parental Alienation (PA) as a health warning, ICD 11 explicitly defining PA as cause of potential serious health challenge. – based on evidence it is a very important contributor to decline in health.

LINKS TO THE INQUIRIES AND INITIATIVES OF THE MOJ AND PRESIDENT OF THE FAMILY DIVISION BELOW

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/family-justice-panel-update

[ii] https://www.judiciary.uk/publications/consultation-children-cases-in-the-family-court-interim-proposals-for-reform/

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