Parental Alienation by the Government
“… we have a massive problem in the family justice system that holds back the speed of reform … the final version [of the Family Justice Review] that worked its way into statute was the result of debate and adjustment and compromise in parliament … I can well understand the disappointment of some who felt Parliament should have gone further.” The Rt. Hon Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division
In Britain, we are no strangers to politicians breaking their promises, and with regard to family law reform this has certainly happened.
The benefits system presents considerable incentives for Parental Alienation. A fundamental problem is that the Government will only pay Child Benefit to one parent, even if both parents have equal contact with the child. Following separation, the parent in receipt of Child Benefit is automatically designated the ‘primary carer’, and the other, the ‘non-resident parent’. Other bodies, such as the Child Support Agency (CSA), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), local councils, police, schools, and doctors, deem the ‘primary carer’ to be ‘in charge’, regardless of legal parental responsibility, shared residence, or actual levels of care provided, imbuing that parent with considerable destructive power. Receipt of Child Benefit also leads to further financial incentives such as Child Tax Credit, Child Support and Maintenance Payments. Figures show that 98% of Child Benefit recipients are women.
With the ‘primary carer’ established and governmentally subsidised, professional representation in court is paramount for the ‘non-resident parent’ who is likely to be under considerable financial pressure and in need of legal aid. In 2014, President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, recognised, ‘… legal aid is simply not available unless there is an allegation of domestic violence … we are increasingly seeing cases where the woman … who alleges domestic violence has legal aid and her partner does not … There is a very real problem … Of course legal aid is a matter of political decision … the absence of representation means the proceedings are not fair and because they are not fair are potentially prejudicial to the interests of the child.’ High Court judge, Sir Ian Duncan Burnett, ruled that part of the government’s legal aid reform in England and Wales was, in fact, unlawful.
In theory, our MPs are in Government to represent us. However, some MPs can be unwilling to spend their time on matters that they know will be blocked at a higher level. Others simply refuse to get involved in matters that they categorise as family disputes or that they believe will do nothing to further their careers. Criticism has even been levelled at some, mainly female, MPs that decisions not to progress changes have been for purely personal reasons.