‘Children have a right to choose’… appraised.’ Part 1

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…’At his / her age, if he / she does not want contact then I cannot make them do something they do not want to…’

‘You cannot force a child to do something it does not want to do…’

‘As a teenager their wishes and feelings are likely to be determinative / decisive…’

‘As a young person they have the right to choose where they live…’

‘I’ve been a judge for over 20 years and I know what I’m talking about…etc’

These are just some of the things which have been relayed to us during this last week alone which judges and cafcass have stated in parents’ cases. Most parents have probably heard each of them at least a hundred times before. There does seem to be a trend of delivering some poorly considered slogans as a substitute for properly considered judgments and the application of the statutory welfare checklist. There does seem to be a Katie Hopkins school of judicial conduct. It flies in the face of the seriousness and draconian nature of decisions which, in many cases, amount to the severance of a relationship between a parent and a child. It is another example of the scourge that Sir Andrew McFarlane recently described in his speech to the Nagalro conference.

‘…there is more that can be done under the present regime to avoid the disaster of a contact case becoming wholly intractable with the result that a child is cut off from contact with the absent parent and, often, grandparents and other important family members.’

These are poignant words from Sir Andrew, which we fully support, but this morning’s postbag alone shows that there are a few cases where his imparted wisdom appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

Referring to four private law cases where contact had effectively been severed Sir Andrew McFarlane added that:

‘On a scale, the impact of that state of affairs is not, in my view, un-akin to the impact generated by the making of an adoption order. Adoption orders are, rightly, regarded as the most Draconian orders that a family court, or indeed any court, can make. The adoption decision in every case is therefore afforded corresponding respect in terms of time, resources and judicial concern. Based on the evidence provided from the four recent cases that I have cited, I fear that the same cannot be said of potentially intractable contact cases.’

The continued trotting out of these slogans — so thoughtlessly when the stakes are so high — adds validity to Sir Andrew McFarlane’s comparatively carefully chosen words. Indeed, the unashamed use of such poorly considered slogans, as those listed above, illustrates that his remarks regarding lack of ‘…respect in terms of time, resources and judicial  concern,’ were entirely deserved. For service users of the family courts we think that too many paying customers leave the court feeling that they have been short changed, ignored, and treated with the utmost contempt.

This article sets out to unpick the unwise words in these commonly used slogans and give parents a basis for questioning the conventional wisdom. It is a scandal that the courts have adopted such a hollow, lazy and feckless paradigms for so long. It is also shameful that they continue to behave in this way without flinching and in the full knowledge that they are both facilitating and providing a veil for the continued and unfettered emotional abuse of children.

Let us examine the general content of the headline sentences. Like much of the discourse in the application of the law surrounding contact they each contain fallacious rhetorical devices. The ‘straw man’ fallacy is the most popular. A straw man is a mischaracterisation of a proposition to make it easier to attack. I will explain how this is engaged in these situations and why it is particularly disingenuous in cases involving parental alienation.

Typically, after contact has been severed, a targeted parent applies, in good faith, to the court to have contact restored. Usually, the reasons for severing contact will be weak, frivolous, disproportionate, contrived, fabricated or simply non existent. The applicant targeted parent does not usually even suggest the use of force to restore contact and they will often have had experience of other instances when their relationship with their children has been severed. They will have experienced just how easy it is for an alienating parent to literally flick a switch and give the child permission to have contact with the targeted parent. Remember that alienation does not usually just happen. When targeted parents analyse their experience since the birth of their children they will usually realise that their children have been used as currency and the seeds will have been sown long before their case arrives in court. 

At the recent EAPAP conference in London we heard one internationally acclaimed authority after another tell us how easy and incredibly quickly alienation can be ended simply by the alienating parent having a change of heart and ‘giving permission’ to the child to resume contact with the targeted parent. Note, this does not involve ‘forcing’ or ‘making’ the child do anything. It merely involves a parent giving permission and encouraging contact instead of opposing it. There are many courses of action available to even unimaginative parents and the courts before it is ever necessary to think of ‘forcing’ or ‘making’ children do anything.

To create the alienation standoff the alienating parent will have, either covertly or overtly, actively exerted their undue influence over the child in order to thwart contact. At the EAPAP conference we heard one expert after another tell us how easy and effective it was for alienating parents to send out the signal that they disapprove of contact. By the same token it is just as easy and effective for them to literally flick the switch and encourage contact. Of all the reunification methods spoken about or described this was unanimously regarded as the simplest, quickest and most effective. 

Readers will note that in this narrative there is no mention of ‘making’ or ‘forcing’ a child to do anything whatsoever. And, this is where the straw men come in. Firstly, the applicant parent usually wants no more than the cooperation of the targeted parent to bring about a change which can be accomplished ever so easily and ever so quickly. However, instead of addressing the real problem i.e the alienating parent, the judge or Cafcass engages the first straw man by suggesting that we should be asking the child to give permission and not the parent. This is the first deliberate mischaracterisation. Secondly, Cafcass and the judge engage another straw man and a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is also known as the fallacy of the missing middle. It involves portraying arguments or choices as being between two extremes and missing out a range of choices between the two extremes. In this case, on one extreme we have a parent opposing contact and using their undue influence to thwart their child’s relationship with the targeted parent whilst at the other extreme Cafcass and the judge present the only available alternative as being — very unpleasant sounding — ‘forcing’ or ‘making’ the child do something it does not want. Other language is often used to reinforce the false dichotomy such as ‘dragging the child to contact’ or ‘pushing’ them into a car. In reality though this is not what the applicant has ever asked for. All they want is the cooperation of an adult alienator to do something that will cost them nothing and which will uphold and encourage their children to enjoy a relationship with the other parent. In other words they are simply asking a court to get the other parent to do their job, take and use parental responsibility. All that is actually being sought is such a far cry from the portrayal of cafcass and the judiciary in these situations. These absolutely vacuous exhortations from Cafcass and the bench do nothing to foster respect or trust in either of them. 

In the next article in this series we will examine the law regarding children’s autonomy that is often used in these cases. This is equally as questionable and the foundations are sometimes flimsy. 

As always, criticism and comments are most welcome.

NOTE The family law arena is packed to bursting with fallacious argument and logical fallacies. Anyone embarking on their journey through the family court system would be wise to acquaint themselves with more information and familiarise themselves with how to identify when these are being used against you. Here, is a link to the late great Carl Sagan’s book, ‘This Demon Haunted World’,  in which he discusses logical fallacies in more detail. The appropriate chapter is chapter 12 and it is appropriately named, ‘The fine art of baloney detection’. It can be found on page 189. This is worth its weight in gold.


When the ‘faecal matter’ hits the fan!!

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These are our comments on the article below from Karen Woodall. The title refers to the dilema now faced by cafcass and others who aree now having to make adjustments having ignored years of developments in the case-law.



For a while we have been pointing out that the issue with PA is no longer one of why is alienation not accepted more widely but rather why have so many people flagrantly ignored developments in the law which govern their respective areas of practice? Parental alienation HAS been a fact of legal life which the likes of Liz Trinder et al. have been allowed to sweep under the carpet by a system that really should know better.

Cafcass’s dillema

Anthony Douglas was effectively outed at the fnf seminar last year over the poor training and even poorer attitude of practitioners towards PA and emotional abuse. In the aftermath, like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights, Sarah Parsons exclaimed, ‘It blew up too soon for us’. This caused me to chuckle because it was 17 years after Sturge and Glasser and Re L. It was also 14 years after Wall J described PA as ‘A well recognised phenomenon’. How much more time did Cafcass want to wake up, small the coffee and react to judicial findings? It seems that glacial speed was too fast for Cafcass. I wonder whether Parsons would have preferred to work at the rate of even slower continental drift.

These events, coupled with major conferences and a generally more vocal and pointed advocacy to increase public awareness of PA have brought us to the present situation where Cafcass find themselves in a bit of a pickle. For Cafcass it is a matter of explaining / excusing years of antipathy and dormancy, finding excuses for failing to adequately safeguard almost a generation of children from an emotionally harmful dynamic and developing a way forward that enables them to save face or at least salvage a little credibility. By any reckoning this is not an easy job they have given themselves. I’ll wager that Anthony Douglas is glad that he delegated it to someone else whilst continuing the countdown to retirement. For many others it is a case of failing to speak out about something they knew was wrong. 

The family justice research production line

It also never ceases to amaze me that Trinder et al. have so much influence and credence when the procedures of peer review and vetting, which are mandatory in other spheres, are routinely circumvented when it comes to providing studies and developing policy for the people we hold most dear: OUR CHILDREN! 

Whereas, virtually every other contract in local or national government will involve a transparent and audit-able process of inviting tenders, tendering, tender appraisals, vetting and finally the awarding of a contract to give best value for money and ensure that the contract fulfils its intended role, all of these public safeguards and any semblance of transparency suddenly evaporate into the ether when it comes to studies which inform policy in the family courts. 

Typically, this is the opaque and apparently clandestine process preferred by the system that professes to support ‘open justice’. Firstly a topic will arise at the family justice board (if and when it ever decides to convene) which is then passed down to the family justice council. This is where a few favoured (usually feminist) academics are on tap to jump at the opportunity to carry out more research. They either do this themselves or pass it on to someone else from a small and exclusive cabal of like-minded researchers. 

Secondly, funding is provided by either the MOJ or the Nuffield foundation. In the later case this is a trust, whose board of trustees includes a serving appeal court judge, Sir Earnest Ryder. He is also a member of the Family Procedure Rules Committee and was formally a judge of the Family Division of the High Court. http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/trustees

I’m not suggesting that there is even a hint of impropriety involved but most people would find the  professional closeness and symbiosis of the relationships a little concerning and wonder why people in these positions simply avoid getting involved in a way that is bound to arouse suspicion in the first place. 

Thirdly, a report is prepared that typically references other work that has benefited from similar funding and been authored by members of the same cabal. Thus, the system is self aggrandizing and the professional standing of these academics is elevated mutually by referencing each others work. The reports are not peer-reviewed. The family justice council receives and praises the work. In deference to the judicial standing of members of the council, these reports are typically not subjected to any great degree of rigour or scrutiny. To outside observers it does look like very nice work if one can get it.

Lack of transparency and policy

I can never explain why, in a situation that involves the merging of judicial and executive functions of government, there can be such a lack of transparency and so little scrutiny. It makes it much harder to argue for improved transparency in the lower courts when senior judges and governing bodies are relatively opaque and set such a poor example illustrating how it should be done. 

But, most worryingly, it means that policy in family law is influenced disproportionately by ideologies and opinions emanating from a tiny gene puddle of contributors. Consequently it has evolved in the same way as an island population and is desperately in need of outside input to encourage both genetic and ideological diversity.

Trinder et al.et al. are now approaching an age where they may soon be hanging up their mortar boards. The family justice system should not allow such a golden opportunity to introduce some new blood into the strain if we are to avoid it becoming a family of inbred village idiots.

Rhetorical fallacies

The use of the ‘pro’ prefix is yet another clumsy and unsophisticated attempt to manufacture a straw-man. It is a Katy Hopkins style of name calling that has no place in the judiciary because even sun readers are now tired and p*****d off with it. In PA v CK & Ors [2018] EWHC 2004 (Fam), HHJ Cohen was not the first judge to speak of alienation experts in pejorative terms but I believe he was the first to do so whilst engaging more fallacious devices of rhetorical argument than any other judgment I have ever read. It reads like a more splenetic jeremiad than even Victor Meldrew could have contemplated. It is a glowing example of how one should not present one’s case, unless one is past caring about accountability, detail and rational thought. Such a rabid judgment requires the judge to regard all appearing before him with the utmost smarmy contempt and as upstarts with the temerity to breathe the same air. Indeed, the late Carl Sagan, the author of ‘The baloney detection kit’ in his great book ‘this demon haunted world’ would be spinning in his grave if it were possible to communicate this judgment to him.

Cleary, splitting and false dichotomies serve a similar role judicially to that when applied by alienated children to their plight. Here too, it conceals the reality from public view and plasters over the cracks. However, it is getting harder to be a bystander and watch quietly because it is being done with an arrogant swagger that is not deserved when a more appropriate reaction would be to hang one’s head in shame.

Autonomy of Children – what does the law actually say?

In virtually every other aspect of family law, when the courts address the issue of children’s autonomy the case-law tells us that provided they have sufficient maturity then, children can say yes to things which will benefit them or they can say no to things which are harmful. I do not know where the law has allowed them to make a mistake that would affect their welfare or best interests. Therefore, it is clearly wrong to leave important choices entirely to children where they would benefit from having another point of view and it is utterly wrong for courts to burden children with decisions that they do not yet have the intellect, experience or sophistication of thought that they need to do so. We believe that it is always wrong to rely solely upon a single item in the welfare checklist. The law does give judges a degree of discretion upon the weighting of the items in a list and even whether certain items are applicable but nonetheless it is also regarded as a sound discipline to appraise the items on the list. Put simply, unless each item is carefully considered then how can a court possibly decide whther it is relevant or not?

Autonomy without capacity

If elderly people who are losing their marbles are given responsibility for decisions that their diminishing capacity renders them incapable of making then we would without question regard this as psychologically abusive. How can we justify making children responsible for making life altering decisions when they are equally as vulnerable? It is equally as abusive and fundamentally wrong. Family law text books and articles use the word ‘paternalistic’ in a pejorative sense to imply controlling behaviour, to ridicule and pour scorn upon the notion of protecting children from such harm. This is yet another mischaracterization. The correct word is actually ‘caring’.



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Firstly, hats off to Karen and Nick Woodall for organising the conference and managing to get most of the key names and innovative thinkers in parental alienation into one place at the same time. The American authors of so any groundbreaking books and studies such as Bill Bernet, Amy Baker, Linda Gotlieb and Stephen Miller were all inspirational, as were all the other speakers we heard from.

However, there were some notable absentees from the conference. Many professionals and parents were in evidence but sadly some professional bodies and organisations snubbed the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business. Perhaps the most conspicuous absentees were Cafcass – who have trumpeted various initiatives of late but who do not appear to want to hear any inconvenient voices that sing a different tune to them.

A somewhat inconvenient fact of life is that Cafcass have been semi-galvanised into action following the shocking revelations at the FNF conference when Anthony Douglas spouted the same anodyne and assuaging nonsense as usual only to be held to account by the great work of Rob Harrison whose sterling efforts revealed that beneath the watered down layer of surface gloss there was an absence of an undercoat. The take up on training offered to Cafcass’s workforce revealed a less than enthusiastic staff that were more bothered about travelling expenses than safeguarding children. You can watch Anthony Douglas’ speech and hear the questions afterwards by using the link below.

I say this because that is what the evidence clearly showed. It is now around 20 years since Cafcass were formed. It is also almost twenty years since Re L and the Sturge and Glasser report and it is 15 years since Wall J stated that , ‘…parental alienation is a well recognised phenomenon.’ The words are important, Note, PHENOMENON. Nonetheless, for between 15 and 20 years Cafcass have deftly and cynically brushed an observed, empirically researched and reported phenomenon under the carpet. They have ignored almost two decades of case-law and cherry picked the bits they like whilst ignoring the bits that did not appeal. They have ignored case law that would have informed their practice and enabled them to perform their statutory function better. They could have protected and safeguarded virtually a generation of children from emotional abuse. They have ignored them and pretended they did not exist.

The result is that with constantly improving public awareness their antipathy now stands out like a sore thumb and they hurried to commission a review of research and case-law from Cardiff University who in turn rushed to publish a cursory view of PA to substantiate the world view of their paymasters, Cafcass. It has taken Cafcass at least 15 years to even review the research and case law. In itself that is a shocking admission.

We will shortly be publishing an antidote to the Cardiff University report but meanwhile, one of the research team, Julie Doughty has teamed up with Sarah Parsons of Cafcass to produce a podcast on PA for social workers.

Perhaps the kindest thing I can say about this podcast is that it is, cringeworthy, contradictory and embarrassing. In places it is also plainly wrong e.g the term implacable hostility was in fact first coined by Latey J in Re B (A Minor) (Access) [1984] FLR 648.

Please judge for yourselves. Before commenting further, what do you think?

Here is a link to the podcast. Enjoy!

Note: for some reason these links do not always work. Therefore. I will put a link in the comments too.


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Unless you can be confident that your heart is in good shape then PLEASE AVOID READING THIS JUDGMENT.


It made us feel very angry that judges can be so comfortably cocooned from the outside world, so utterly oblivious to 200 years of jurisprudence and 18 years of recent caselaw, public debate and no small amount of controversy.

Never have we felt so completely convinced that NAAP has not been formed a minute too soon.

Dr Steven Miler has written a great deal about errors in decision making especially in cases featuring parentally alienating behaviours and parent / child relationship severance. It’s a great shame that neither of the judges in this case appear to have ever read Dr Miller’s excellent advise BEFORE being allowed to make life altering decisions that will echo in a child’s life and 50 % of the child’s DNA for many years to come.

HHJ Cohen considers that overt and highly alienating behaviours pale into insignificance compared with the sress of ongoing litigation. The judge seems to neglect a few basic points that we will be discussing in an article shortly.

Please feel free to comment.

Your views are most welcome.



PART TWO – Parent / Child relationship Severance

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When the state severs a parent child relationship in public law

Lately we have been looking in more detail at the idea put forward by the new president of the family court, Sir Andrew McFarlane.

To recap, in his thoughfull keynote speech to the Nagalro annual conference.


Sir Andrew compared the way the family courts, on behalf of the the state, deal with the ‘severence’ of a parent child relationship. He contrasted and compared, adoption, in public law, to private law situations where orders were made by the state that amounted to the same thing as adoption i.e severing the relationship between a parent and a child. The end result was virtually identical but the labels given were different and of far more concern is the fact that the process applied in public law includes far more safeguards, involves a far greater degree of mandatory diligence and afer all is said and done the final cut can ony be made ‘when nothng else will do’. ( Lady Hale in Re B [2003]).

Compare and Contrast severance in public law and private law

Compare this with the private law situation where orders are sometimes bulldozed through usually against unrepresented litigants who are equally as vulnerable, do not know the law, do not have the skills needed, are suffering from shock and in a state of unresolved grief for the loss of a child. Parental alienation and relationship reverence are frequently likened to bereavement. But, unlike bereavement there is no closure. Targeted parents and children experience intense and debilitating grief which can last for years. These parents are fighting with both hands tied behind their backs. I know many of you will empathise with this situation because many of you have told me this. I have also experienced it. It made me feel suicidal and wretched.

Orders that amount to severence are routinely dished out like confetti with none of the diligence and safeguards but with all of the heartache and pain involved with similar public law decisions. It seems to be a blind spot for the judiciary and Social workers and they appear to be oblivious to the reality that orders which are euphemistically called no contact orders, letterbox contact orders, indirect contact orders, unenforced contact orders all amount to the same thing i.e contact severence.

Similarly, any orders making expectations of couples to work out their own arrangements by agreement, when the cases are aleady intractable or bear all the hallmarks of being intractable, will also invariably end up as relationships being severed. Indeed the time wasted through failing to enforce orders allows further enmeshment with the abusive parent to take place. Severing a mutually treasured parent child relationship for frivolous, false, fabricated or weak reasons is emotionally harmful, coercive and abusive. Courts are effectively consigning children to a toxic and contagious brand of single parenting by parents who are often damaged at best and suffering from psycopathic personality disorders at worst. In short our kids are routinely being thrown under buses by the judiciary and the professionals who advise them.

Selective blindness

There also seems to be a selective, collective but convenient blindspot around the fact that orders which sever the relationship between a parent and a child are in reality amongst the most serious and ‘draconian’ that UK courts — in any jurisdiction — can make since the abolition of the death penalty.

In a very moving case involving the prospective adoption of a little girl taken into care as a result of child protection proceedings, Munby J observed:

‘…It must never be forgotten that, with the State’s abandonment of the right to impose capital sentences, orders of the kind which judges of this Division are typically invited to make in public law proceedings are amongst the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make.’

(See Re C (care proceedings: disclosure of local authority’s decision making process)[2002] EWHC 1379 (Fam) at paragraph 150).

The speech referred to earlier by Sir Andrew McFarlane also paraphrases this important point.

When the parent child relationship is severed by a parent

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The point made in the preceding section is that the severance of a parent child relationship ranks amongst the worst things that the state can do to its citizens. Therefore, when a parent does the same thing to another parent it is also one of the worst things that one human can do to another. Yet, collectively, we just do not seem to be bothered when we hear of parental alienation and the toxic use of parental undue influence. For a great example of how alienating behaviours are routinely belittled, and by those that really should know better, see the clip of Cafcass Cymru’s CEO, Nigel Brown, undermining parentally alienating behaviours in the Welsh Assembly. It beggars belief when such caustic and damaging behaviour can be taken so lightly by the same people who are charged with responsibility for safeguarding our children. They would be outraged by parents smoking in front of their kids or failing to strap them into a car seat. Yet behaviours that cause as much if not more harm are the subject to mirth and ridicule. There is a massive difference in the way we treat severing a parent child relationship in alienation cases in private law proceedings and the significant harm it causes compared with other sources of significant harm to children. Karen Woodall stated,

‘Parental alienation is one of the most damaging behavioural adaptations a child can be forced to endure in childhood and in its largely accepted presence in our society it is, I believe, a child abuse scandal which will one day be fully recognised all over the world.’

We agree.

Higher Courts v Lower Courts

On the one hand how is it possible for the judiciary, in the higher courts, to speak of the seriousness of severing parent child relationships, by ranking it only second to the death penalty in its severity, with the stock response of judges in the lower courts that amount to being told to: ‘Suck it up buttercup, your kid does not want to see you’? The care and respect given to severance of the parent / child relationship in public law is notable for its absence in private law. There is a complete absence of respect and equity outside the sphere of public law proceedings.

We go to court for justice and fairness. We do not go there to throw away our hard earned cash or to be admonished with Katy Hopkins style slogans that we could get for free in an online rag. Other incantations like:

‘… children are not time-shares…’,

‘…you can’t make your child see another parent if they don’t want to Mr…’

‘…you can’t drag you child onto a plane / boat / bus…’

I have heard all these in the lower courts and felt compelled to bite my lip to avoid saying:

“Yes M’am, but you do not seem to be experiencing any problems or even having any misgivings about throwing my child under a <bleep> ’ bus.”

Let us be clear

It matters NOT who does it, whether it is the state, a family, friends or another parent who severs the parent / child bond, because the harm, pain and hurt caused are just the same.

It matters NOT whether this is done by a parent or by a child acting under their undue influence because the harm, pain and hurt caused are just the same.

It DOES matter that cases involving pure alienation are not treated to the same standards of care, diligence, humanity, rigour, education, learning or even common decency as other situations where a child / parent relationship is severed because the harm, pain and hurt caused are just the same.

This has been clear for a very long time

It has mattered at least since the case of Marquis v Marchioness of Montbeath 200 years ago.

It has mattered at least since Re L  [2000], when Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss said, ’ There is, of course, no doubt that some parents, particularly mothers, are responsible for alienating their children from their fathers without good reason and thereby creating this sometimes insoluble problem.’

It has mattered at least since Re O in [2003], when Wall P described a ,’…clear case of PA.’

He added ‘PA is a well recognised phenomenon’…………… ad nauseam.

Fast forward to the present day and Re C where, eventually — after 5 out of only 6 years and 50 hearings, the court actually GOT IT!


The here and now

And so the can has continued to be kicked down the road for at least most of the new millennium. Suffice to say that the can is now rusty, worn and disintegrating. The first wave of child victims of PA that have been failed by Cafcass, social workers and the courts are now approaching the age where children that have been infected by the PA virus will have families of their own. We know this is causing them to start to ask difficult questions.

We do have some sympathy with those in the courts and the supporting professions who have inherited a very tricky legacy but we have no sympathy or respect for anyone that colludes with the emotional abuse of children regardless of their excuses.

There is a word amongst ‘lags’ for child abusers. That word is ‘nonce’ and it also applies to those who sympathise or collude with child abusers.

It is now time for the judiciary in the lower courts and the court professionals who assist them to stop procrastinating and to start doing the jobs that we all pay them for.

Enough is enough…

In the next piece we will be describing the many ways in which the treatment of cases involving parental alienation in private law differ from other cases involving the severance of child / parent relationships in public law.When the state severs a parent child relationship.