Dealing with allegations of child abuse in the Family Court

Here, McAlister Family Law Senior Associate, Melissa Jones, looks at a story making headlines; Titanic Actor, Ioan Gruffudd has made allegations against his children’s mother, Alice Evan, and has labelled  her a “child abuser” in court documents issued in Los Angeles.

The allegations in the court documents state: “Alice has continued to inflict serious emotional harm on Ella and Elsie by her statements and by interfering in my relationship with them’ and ‘Alice has verbally abused and undermined me in front of the girls throughout their lives.’

In this case there is an allegation that the father is being alienated from his children as a direct result of the other parent’s influence over the children.


What is Parental Alienation?

There is no definition in family law but Cafcass have provided helpful guidance. Cafcass use it “to describe circumstances where there is an ongoing pattern of negative attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of one parent (or carer) that have the potential or expressed intent to undermine or obstruct the child’s relationship with the other parent. It is one of a number of reasons why a child may reject or resist spending time with one parent post-separation”.

Below are some examples  of parental alienation, which covers a variety of behaviours in the child, such as:

  • fear, hostility, or disrespect towards the distant parent
  • the child constantly criticising the alienated parent, with no strong evidence or justifications for doing so
  • the child having overwhelmingly negative feelings towards the alienated parent – in the sense that these feelings are not ‘mixed’
  • the child having unwavering support of the alienator
  • the child using terms and phrases that seem to be borrowed from adult language
  • the child does not feel guilty about mistreating or hating the alienated parent


How does the Court deal with allegations of alienation?

This of course a case in USA, but we will take a look at what the court would do if such allegations were made in a court in England and Wales.

The law, as it stands, presumes that it is in the children’s best interests for each parent, even when they have separated, to continue to be involved in the lives of any and all of their children, unless such involvement may subject them to a risk of harm.

But is it child abuse?

The Chief Executive of CAFCASS describes parental alienation as “undoubtedly a form of neglect or child abuse”.

Allegations of parental alienation should be taken seriously.  It is commonly recognised that exposing children to alienating behaviours can be emotionally harmful to them. The overriding view is that it is in the child’s best interests to have an ongoing relationship with both parents. At the heart of every decision made by the Family Court is what course of action is in the best interests of the child.

Another twist in the Gruffudd and Evans case is that their daughter, aged 13, filed a restraining order against her father. Mr Gruffudd has blamed this application on Ms Evans and has also claimed that she has prevented the children from attending counselling.

Ms Evan’s has denied the allegation and stated in court papers that Mr Gruffudd ‘has not seen, complied with, nor called the children for 11 weeks’.

Interestingly, Ms Evans stands opposed to her and the children being subject to such court proceedings if such evaluation is based on speculation and suspicions.

Clearly this looks set to be a heavily disputed set of proceedings in which both parties will need put their case to the court.

Sadly, as can often be the case with child arrangement disputes, the children can get be caught in the middle; in this case they might know a lot more about these proceedings because of their famous parents and the fact that this is playing out in public.

If you are experiencing any of the above, then it is important you instruct a lawyer who is a specialist in such matters. It could be the case that your child holds strong views of their own but may have been coached into believing other views. This would need careful exploration in the family court, and it is important that time is not lost in the process, so early advice is recommended.

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this blog post, we can provide you with expert legal advice. For more information, please get in touch with our specialist team at


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