Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK

- promoting responsible shared parenting after separation and divorce -

Parental Alienation - how to overcome the arguments

The child says different things to different people

It is well documented that children say different things to different people - in general they say what they think adults want to hear - after all they are political animals trying to exist in a crisis :
"Children fit their responses to the expectations of adults, especially those adults who are in a position of power'' [DHSS report on child abuse issued by HMSO 1983]
Unfortunately :
"Each parent is likely to take what has been said at face value and to be reluctant to believe the other's claim that they have been told the opposite ..'' [Conciliation, Children & Divorce - Howard & Shepherd p 68]
Misunderstandings are not sufficient reason to deprive a child of access.

Child not wanting to see you ?

The weight of expert opinion now is that the most critical factor in the child's successful adjustment to divorce is his continued contact with both parents. [Susan Maidment, Family Law 1984]
Why then is it your child is being denied contact with both parents ?

If it has been claimed that the child does not wish to see you, ask:

The child has a right to be protected against the damage which will result from losing contact, It may be that the child is identifying with the views of the parent with whom it lives. The child has already lost one parent so it is unlikely to want to do anything which would annoy the other parent one - after all, who would look him if she left ?

It may be that the child was very young at the time of the separation and has had no experience of staying access or even regular access, so has no concept of what it is. It may be that the child is a little hesitant about this step into the unknown, and this is to be expected, but this is not sufficient reason to deny this access which is so essential to continued well being.

How do we perceive what the child wants and what is in it's best interests ? These may be two different things. A child may not ant to go to school, but it is usually in their best interests. The child may say ``No'' to access when it means

The problem is that the child is not free to choose - after all they are trying to exist in a crisis. The child is very aware of the animosity between the parents; and may therefore think that going on access will annoy mother - but this is not sufficient reason to deny access.

In this context decisions about access become heavy, burdensome and agonising - decisions a child should not be expected to make.

It may be worth arguing that there is no evidence before the court that access would be anything other than beneficial to the children - but there is plenty of evidence in recent reports of the harm of not having access. These children deserve the opportunity to love and be loved by both parents.

A decision needs to be imposed from outside - this will not only relieve the children from the burden of making the decision, it will also remove any feeling of betrayal when they go on access. A court order gives the children the protection they need - they can go on access knowing that they are not betraying mother.

Suggest a trial of access, at a contact centre or with the help of the welfare officer, and that it be reviewed by both parties meeting with the welfare officer in 3 months. Remember always have a built-in review - it is quicker to get back into court that way if anything goes wrong.

David Cannon

Last updated - 12 April 1999

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