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Can alienated children's wishes be trusted?

Child psychiatrist Dr Kirk Weir talked about his work in high conflict contact disputes on 27th September in Edinburgh to two audiences  - family mediators and family lawyers.

Drawing upon his experience as an expert witness in the English Family Courts, he described how such cases can be resolved, but only if the expressed wishes of the alienated child are ignored and contact is vigorously enforced using the authority of the court.

In such cases, otherwise normal children will insist that they no longer wish to see one of their parents after separation, usually the father.  This is sometimes accompanied by allegations of child sexual abuse and domestic violence.  The vast majority of such children are well adjusted, and doing well both socially and at school.

Within the context of their relationship with one of their parents they express feelings, statements and behaviour which are extreme and out of character - parental alienation.

Dr Weir described a study of his work in 60 court cases.  His involvement came after a Finding of Fact had dismissed any allegations of child abuse or domestic violence.  In preparing his report to court, he interviewed both parents separately, and then met children on their own and with each parent.

In the sessions with the alienated parent and children together, apparently stout resistance dissolved into normal loving contact, sometimes within minutes, sometimes after a hour or so.  

This enforced contact was successful in all cases involving children under 5, in 80% of cases with children aged 5-7, and in 40% of older children. 

His conclusion: alienation is a powerful but unstable defence mechanism, found in children who are torn between loyalty to the main carer and feelings for the other parent in high conflict contact cases. 

Dr Weir's talks were arranged by Relationships Scotland in assocation with Families Need Fathers Scotland.  The results of his study will be published in Family Court Review shortly. (High Conflict Contact Disputes: The Extreme Unreliability of Children's Expressed Wishes and Feelings.)

Here are some notes handed out on the day

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