When relationship breakdown and divorce become a battleground, then it can bring out the worst in people and this includes trying to use children as a pawn in negotiations. Sadly, there are occasions where one or both parents forget that their children are already upset and confused over the separation of their parents, scared about their future, and worried about where they will be living or leaving.
In the worst cases, one parent may even try to turn the children against the other parent. This is known as ‘alienation’ and occurs when a parent manipulates a child into believing bad things about the other parent. In the recent TV Series ‘The Split’ the mother Ruth Defoe kept all the letters and presents from her ex-husband to their children as they grew up, causing them to believe that he had abandoned them for their nanny.
In more serious cases, a parent may even make false allegations of violence or sexual abuse in order to prevent any contact. What can you do if you believe that your former spouse or partner is trying to turn your children against you?
‘Initially, we would recommend trying to resolve problems amicably via mediation or collaborative law. These are non-confrontational methods of dispute resolution which aim to rebuild relationships with the children’s best interests at heart.’
If this does not work, then it may be necessary to apply to court and an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (CAFCASS) will prepare a report with recommendations to the judge. Sometimes a child psychologist is also asked to advise the judge if there is evidence of parental alienation.
The Family Court has the power to make any order it deems appropriate to protect the welfare of the children. This includes orders in regard to time spent with each parent, and sanctions if one parent does not obey the court order.
In extreme circumstances the court has the power to imprison a parent for contempt of court, but the solicitors will be working hard to ensure that it does not come to this.
‘It is important to keep communication channels open’ explains Helen, ‘and a family law solicitor will be able to support you and help you to continue to see your children.’