Help and advice for proving child manipulation
When and why does child manipulation happen?
Sometimes, in a high conflict divorce, one of the parents may try to use their child or children as pawns. It can occur in any dispute over children, the family house or finances and they attempt to inflict harm on the other by attempting to destroy that parent’s relationship with their children. This is not only harmful to the targeted parent but also very damaging to any child caught in these emotional battles. When the manipulative parent tries to alienate the child from the other parent it is often called parental alienation.
What are the features of child manipulation?
The parent may:
- Cause the child to believe that they will only be loved by complying with their wishes and taking their side;
- Interfere with the time the alienated parent has with the child especially by offering competing choices that would tempt the child to do something other than visit that parent;
- Be distraught that the child is spending time with the other parent;
- Constantly try to align the child against the other parent;
- Make up or distort facts about the other parent, especially relating to the divorce, and share inappropriately adult matters with the child;
- Use the child as a spy;
- Use the child as a messenger;
- Threaten self harm if the other parent or the child does not give into their demands.
What are the warning signs in children?
Some of the signs to look out for:
- Your child is suddenly distant where you once had a close relationship;
- Your child accuses you of something that has not happened;
- Your child defends the other parent to an unusual degree;
- Aggressive rebellion from the child;
- Your child knows more details than necessary about your relationship with the other parent and what’s happening in any disputes;
- The child tries to find out things from the alienated parent about what they’re thinking or doing.
What should you do if you think child manipulation is happening?
1. Above all – keep records to help protect yourself and get evidence you might need
Evidence gathering is key in these cases whether you’re already being falsely accused or not. So you should always keep meticulous records as soon as you embark on what’s likely to be a contentious family court case, just in case. You’ll probably know it’s going to be contentious because you know what the other parent is like and the lengths they’ll go to to achieve their aims because you’ll have seen this already in other circumstances.
Keeping records of good things as well as bad is really important because you might need to prove something that happened when you had the children with you, what you did, what did they say, what made you suspect something was wrong, and were you with someone else who can back you up like grandparents or other relatives or friends. In other words you may have the evidence to prove your innocence by showing what actually happened.
Keeping records is even more important if there are already false accusations made against you. There may be more before it’s finished.
Your records should include:
- A record of all contact you have with the other person, including emails, texts, phone calls, and in-person meetings whether the children are present or not. Be cautious. Don’t make contact by phone or meet the other parent alone if possible. It can be difficult to prove what was said in a conversation. If you have to have a discussion, make sure you write a record of what was said and agreed as soon as possible afterwards. Better, get a reliable witness if you have to make a call or meet the other parent;
- Keep records of locations you go to that prove your whereabouts and when you were there, including photos of what you did, who you went with, receipts for bus fares, train fares, parking tickets etc;
- Keep screenshots of social media posts anyone makes about the case (these can be deleted later so always capture them as soon as you see them);
- Anything at all that’s relevant or may become so.
Also keep a record of how the allegations are dealt with.
Once you have been accused of something, it is also important to keep records of what happens afterwards about the allegation including your involvement with the police or social services if they become involved. Write down everything you remember about each incident they mention and any other interactions you have had with your accuser and with others who become involved as a result of what’s been said about you. Make a note of any witnesses, what they witnessed, and get their contact details. All this can help prove your innocence. Don’t give up recording part way through. It’s essential and could be the difference between being believed and not being believed.
2. Get good legal advice and representation
Ideally find a solicitor used to dealing with parental alienation cases and who is familiar with how best to conduct such cases. They are very difficult and need real expertise. You will probably also need an expert with specialist expertise in these types of cases and your solicitor will advise on that and also on the advantages and pitfalls of different courses of action.
3. Do lots of research finding out about parental alienation so you can understand it more and learn what you need to do to achieve your aims
Can a child be represented in a parental alienation case?
In private law proceedings, which is where there’s a dispute either between parents and/or other extended family members about the arrangements for children, the general rule is that a child is not a party to the proceedings and therefore not represented. The parties are the adults involved. Usually in these kinds of cases the family court will ask CAFCASS to prepare a report and make recommendations. The CAFCASS officer writes the report after discussing the issues with the parents and meeting the children to ascertain their wishes and feelings. Read about child custody and contact here to learn more about what the court will take into consideration.
However, in a minority of difficult private law cases the court may decide that the child needs separate representation. A parental alienation case would be likely to meet the conditions for separate representation of the child. In such cases the court will appoint a Children’s Guardian (also from CAFCASS) to represent the child. The job of the Guardian is to decide what’s in the child’s best interests and to advocate for that. What you’re hoping for is a Guardian sufficiently trained and competent to see through the alienating parent and who looks to maintain the relationship you have with your child and try to make sure it continues. But the Guardian’s idea of what’s best for your child may not agree with yours, so it can be a minefield. If a child is made a party to private law proceedings and they have their own Guardian, a solicitor for the child will also be appointed to represent the child in court.
These cases are rare and only occur if one of the following circumstances:
- If CAFCASS recommends it;
- If there is an ‘intractable’ dispute over where the child should live or how much time they should spend with the other parent;
- If all contact has stopped altogether and there is implacable hostility which may be harming the child as a result;
- If an older child is opposed to a course of action being put forward by CAFCASS;
- If there are complex medical or mental health issues;
- If there is an international element possibly involving child abduction;
- If there have been serious allegations of physical sexual or other abuse or domestic violence.
A parental alienation case could potentially fit more than one of these conditions.
Can a young person instruct a solicitor themselves separate from the Guardian and their solicitor?
Yes, a more mature child or young person can try to instruct their own solicitor if they want to. After meeting the child, a Children Panel solicitor (a solicitor approved by the Law Society to represent children) would decide whether the child is capable of giving separate instructions. The child needs to show that they understand the court process and the implications and consequences of any instructions they give to the solicitor about what they want to happen.
Legal Aid may be available for a child but in private law cases a full ‘merits and means’ assessment would be made to the Legal Aid Agency to consider why the child/young person requires legal representation and confirm that they have no financial means to pay for the legal advice and representation themselves.
Remember though in a parental alienation case an older child may have been so manipulated by the alienating parent that their instructions will align with that parent, which of course won’t help your case at all.
These are complex, difficult cases.
Child manipulation cases are very complex and require a lot of legal and medical/psychological expertise. Don’t underestimate the uphill struggle you will have. So do all you can to help yourself, especially the record keeping. Even though it can be time consuming and tedious, it is essential if you are to get a good outcome.