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Barristers warn parents not to fall into the parental alienation trap

Published: 19th November 2019 12:25

A UNIQUE Bristol-based legal service giving separating or divorcing parents direct access to barristers says it wishes to raise awareness of parental alienation before cases reach the courtroom (November 2019).

Children in the Middle says it wants to highlight the issue to ensure parents are aware of it and catch it in its early stages, so children aren’t fully alienated.

Elizabeth McCallum, who is a family barrister and co-founder of Children in the Middle, along with fellow barrister Sarah Evans, explained: “Parental alienation is when, following divorce or separation, a child, for no good reason, rejects one of their parents as a result of the influence, either conscious or subconscious, of the other parent. It is emotional abuse.

“The English legal system is only just starting to get to grips with the concept but we’d rather it didn’t reach the court and could be resolved before this to reduce the damage it can cause between parents and children.”

Children in the Middle is the only practice solely specialising in offering parents wishing to make arrangements to see their children direct access to barristers inside and outside court nationally in England and Wales. 

In the past a solicitor was required to instruct a barrister, but due to rule changes under the Public Access Scheme, members of the public are now able to instruct barristers direct. 

Children in the Middle says, with time, parental alienation can lead to a child falsely accusing the rejected parent of harming them and it results in the child becoming psychologically ‘split’, when they perceive one parent is all good and the other all bad.

Elizabeth continued: “These are some of the most difficult cases around and they need careful and sensitive handling. Parents need the right expert advice and assistance from barristers, but also therapists and psychologists. If left to continue long-term, it can cause severe emotional harm to a child and this can be difficult to repair.

“Just last month there was a case at Bristol Family Court showing how difficult it can be to transfer residence once a child is fully alienated. While parental alienation is now being recognised and understood in our legal system, it’s just the beginning. Even identifying a child’s behaviour as parental alienation can be an uphill struggle, so it is key to tackle it early with the right legal and therapeutic input.”

Children in the Middle is warning separating or divorcing parents in the middle of a dispute over their children, that it may be difficult to see what is happening.

“Once parental alienation is recognised, you then have to convince the judge on the right course of action to help your child. You also probably have to convince a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer and the other parent too.

“Your child will probably require therapy to help them process and understand the alienation. Using the wrong therapist for your child can worsen the alienation. You therefore need expert legal advice on how to address this issue. We advise and represent parents in cases of parental alienation and can help convince other professionals and the judge what is happening to your child and how to try to resolve it.”

Prior to launching Children in the Middle, Elizabeth and Sarah worked together on the landmark case of Re W (Children) [2012] Civ 999. This remains one of the leading cases on contact between fathers and children.

Sarah, who has been a family law specialist for more than 30 years, said: “Wherever possible, we will help a parent reach a voluntary agreement with the other parent over the arrangements for their child. But, if court action is required, as barristers, we can provide the experienced representation a parent needs for every stage of the proceedings, from initial advice, drafting an application to the court, representation at hearings and preparation of witness statements and evidence. 

“However, as a parent you may just need one meeting with us so we can give you advice and guidance on the best way forward for you and your child.”

Children in the Middle is expert in this field with a wealth of experience in handling these complex and sensitive disputes.

Elizabeth said: “Most of our work is done remotely, which means geography is not a barrier. It also means that we keep our overheads down, a benefit we can pass on to the client. What we offer is affordable, expert legal advice about your children.

“By having direct access to us, you can save money by managing your own case through handling the admin and the paperwork, while still benefitting from specialist legal advice from a barrister, who is a children’s law expert.” 

Elizabeth has practiced in this area of law for more than 14 years. She initially qualified as a barrister, then transferred to become a family solicitor and, more recently, became a barrister. 

Sarah has a wealth of experience having spent time as a family lawyer working in the USA, Scotland and London before joining Magdalen Chambers in Exeter as a barrister.

As well as assisting with court cases, Children in the Middle can offer assistance with appointments and preparing court documents to parents living anywhere in England and Wales.

Elizabeth added: “We have more than 45 years’ combined experience in the children law field and we aim to offer creative, practical solutions in even the most difficult situations.”

For further details, please call Children in The Middle on 0117 214 1797 or email office@childreninthemiddle.co.uk. Alternatively, please visit www.childreninthemiddle.co.uk.

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