Parents who alienate children from other parent in divorce battles could lose contact

The new approach, devised by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), is aimed at tackling parental alienation by urging them to consider the "profound" emotional impact on the child. PA
The new approach, devised by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), is aimed at tackling parental alienation by urging them to consider the "profound" emotional impact on the child. PA
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Parents engaging in Doctor Foster-style attempts to alienate children from their other parent during divorce battles could lose contact under a "groundbreaking" trial.

The new approach, devised by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), is aimed at tackling parental alienation by urging them to consider the "profound" emotional impact on the child.

Cafcass, which represents children's voices in family court disputes, said the High Conflict Practice Pathway is a response to an "increasing recognition" of alienation in the 60,000 private law cases in which it is involved each year.

In extreme cases children could be moved from living with the parent who is thought to be alienating, allowing them to maintain a relationship with both, or the instigator even restricted from or refused contact.

Anthony Douglas, Cafcass chief executive, said alienation occurs in around 10% of its private law caseload, involving around 6,000 children a year. The three-month trial is working with 50 of the most difficult cases.

Asked what sparked the new approach, he told the Press Association: "I think our increasing awareness of the damage to children - it's invisible but often causes them profound emotional harm - and the fact that the cases in court often stretch for months and months, which adds to the damage.

"There are clear signs, we have checklists and staff are trained to recognise that.

"So if a child does not want to see another parent, perhaps there will be no good reason and the other parent has behaved impeccably, that's a clear sign alienation is happening. Or if a child uses language that is clearly not a child's language.

"The approach will use techniques to make the alienator see the damage they are doing - they may feel they are helping their child by shutting the other parent out.

"They are trying to turn their child into a child soldier in a battle.

"(The increase) is either an increase in recognition but there also may be some social trend - there are trends in society that have a 'me first, me at any cost' selfish element."

Referencing hit BBC drama Doctor Foster, Mr Douglas said cases can become complex when both parents see themselves as victims or alienation is directed by more than just one parent.

The show, starring Suranne Jones, features a couple locked in an increasingly antagonistic separation and the consequences for the family, including their young son.

Cafcass said alienation was best seen on a spectrum, with some more mild or moderate in impact to extreme cases characterised by one parent manipulating the child, without any contribution to this dynamic by the rejected parent.

The body said: "Where alienating behaviours are extreme, severely hindering or preventing contact, it may be in the best interests of the child for professionals and the courts to consider a change in who the child lives with."

Mr Douglas said the programme, which began this month, was intended to see a resolution to disputes within three months and the results of the trial will be evaluated before it could be used more widely.

Sarah Parsons, the body's assistant director, told the Guardian: "Our new approach is groundbreaking."