This House of Commons Library briefing considers how Cafcass deals with the issue of parental alienation when it arises, which can affect contact and residence cases before the courts. New Cafcass guidance was issued in October 2018 to help identify when parental alienation has occurred. A link to the full report in pdf format can be found at the bottom of this page.

Cafcass, the Government’s Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), has noted that “while there is no single definition” of parental alienation, it “recognise[s] parental alienation as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”. Cafcass adds that parental alienation “is one of a number of reasons why a child may reject or resist spending time with one parent post-separation”, and notes “all potential risk factors, such as domestic abuse, must be adequately and safely considered, reduced or resolved before assessing the other case factors or reasons”.

When a court is considering whether to make, vary or discharge an order relating to contact or residence (called a child arrangements order), one factor it may take into account is the wishes and feelings of the child concerned. It is therefore important that those views are the child’s alone, and have been not influenced by a parent, for example.

While the courts and those involved with proceedings, in particular Cafcass officers whose role it is to talk to the children involved and to convey to the court their wishes and feeling, have long been aware of the issue of parental alienation, the issue has gained an increased level of interest recently, including through a marked increased in the parliamentary activity on the topic.

In October 2018, Cafcass launched its new Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) which built on existing guidance to its staff in regard to parental alienation (and also other topics such as domestic abuse).

Although the law relating to child arrangements orders (the Children Act 1989 as amended) applies to both England and Wales, the England-only body Cafcass (which this note focuses on) is separate to its Welsh counterpart, CAFCASS Cymru, and as such this note applies to England only.