Following parental separation or divorce, I understand parents can face difficulties continuing a relationship with their child. This is particularly the case when the other parent behaves in an obstructive way.
I believe it is only right that the child's welfare and best interests are paramount when considering this issue. As part of this, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) reports any concerns about alienating behaviours to the court. It is also the case that parents can inform the court of any concerns or issues they have regarding the other parent.
Alienating behaviours can include a number of attitudes and actions. They can range from the subtle, such as drip-feeding negative views to the more obvious, such as deliberately flouting child arrangement orders. These behaviours are clearly wrong. It is important to remember that these are not limited to cases involving domestic abuse. They can occur in cases of acrimonious separation for example.
I do not believe that alienating behaviours should not be defined as domestic abuse in their own right. However, in circumstances where such behaviours are indicative of a wider pattern of emotional or psychological abuse, I confident that the Clause 1 definition in the Domestic Abuse Act already applies. I, therefore, do not support the proposed amendments to this definition. I welcome the Government’s approach of defining domestic abuse by reference to different types of abusive behaviours and not by reference to the form in which those behaviours may be expressed or manifested.
However, I do accept work should continue to address parental alienation. It is good news that Cafcass launched its Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF). This framework includes various tools and guidance to help social work practitioners identify how children are experiencing parental separation. This includes any alienating behaviour by one parent against another.
I will continue to monitor this situation closely and will encourage Ministers to keep parental alienation policy under review to ensure children's best interests are served and parents are not unduly locked out of their relationship with their child.