Parental Alienation
4th April 2019
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As a family and children solicitor, it annoys me when I come across cases involving alienation and implacable hostilty. My feeling of irritation was triggered by the sense of injustice to the father and to the children in this case. 

The centre of the Children Act 1989 is the welfare of the children, and in cases like these, the welfare of the children is not safeguarded at all.


In Q and R (intractable contact) [2017] EWFC B35

A brief case summary:

In summary:

The litigation spanned across five years, from 2012 to 2017. At the end of the proceedings, in June, the parties sons were 12 (S) and 8 (T). T had spent over half of his life embroiled in litigation and his brother, over a third.

The parties separated in 2007, after a violent attack by the father on the mother. They reconciled in 2008, shortly before T was born.

The parties separated again in 2011 and problems with contact started to arise in August 2012. In September 2012, T’s nursery made a referral to the local authority concerned that 'mum appears blinkered and appears focused on dad and not letting him see the children'.

On 26 October 2012, the father made an application for contact to court. At or around the same time, the mother sought assistance from Women’s Aid.

The first hearing was held on 12 December 2012. The court ordered that the children should have staying contact with their father on alternate weekends. The mother had argued against any contact.

Thereafter a pattern ensued: soon after contact was ordered, the mother would allege a reason for it to stop. In HHJ Vincent’s words, the mother was 'unwilling at every stage for contact to take place…When it has happened, she has looked for difficulties and at the sign of any difficulty her response has been to renew allegations against the father, recounting her version of history and to suggest that contact should stop'. The parties would go back to court. Contact would be ordered again. The pattern would repeat. Eventually, the children went for a two-year period without any contact with their father and the case ended up before HHJ Vincent. By that time, despite positive contact taking place at various points in the proceedings, both children were expressing a clear wish not to see their father again.

The role of the expert witnesses

Neither the expert witnesses nor the judge were faultless in their conclusion of the father, commenting that he was physically imposing, saw things in black and white and was 'essentially practical not emotional and not possessing much insight into the impact of his powerful presence on others'. It was acknowledged that the assault on the mother in 2007 was horrendous, however, it did not automatically disqualify him as a father and none of the experts, save for one, concluded that the father, himself, posed a threat to the children. Most of the experts found favour with the father at various points of the proceedings:

  • The social worker’s report, delivered after a three-month period of supervised contact, recorded that the father had demonstrated himself 'able to meet the children’s needs positively and effectively', that his discipline of the children was 'wholly appropriate' and recommended a shared care arrangement with the children spending alternate weeks with each parent.
  • Dr Morgan, who was ordered to carry out a psychological assessment of both parents, reported that the mother was 'implacably opposed to father’s contact'.
  • The children’s guardian agreed with Dr Morgan that the mother had acted so as to prevent the children from having a relationship with their father.
  • Dr Misch, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, concluded that the mother had repeatedly sabotaged contact, that whilst the father had a propensity in the past to become angry and aggressive, he had successfully managed it and that the children would 'benefit enormously from contact with their father'.

Only one expert formed the view that the mother’s anxieties were genuine; a social worker referred to as MA in the judgment. The judge concluded, however, that MA’s report was based on incorrect information. The mother had told him of various events, none of which were reported accurately by her. Disappointingly, MA had not read the bundle provided to him. HHJ Vincent viewed MA’s analysis as flawed, based on a view of the father which was factually incorrect and not supported by the overwhelming weight of evidence in the case.

Save for MA, there was an acknowledgment across the experts that the children were suffering and would continue to suffer very significant harm as a consequence of being separated from their father and from the false belief system behind the reasons for that separation, instilled in them by their mother. Yet the result was an order for indirect contact only.

The judge herself acknowledged that she had no confidence in the mother’s ability to promote it, however felt it was important for the children to see that the court had endorsed potential channels of communication with their father. She stressed that the order she was making was done so with reluctance, describing the suggestions she had made as 'meagre' and as visiting 'a grave injustice on both the father and the boys'.

How could this happen?

Whilst the experts acknowledged that the children had a false belief system imposed upon them by their mother, their fears and anxieties were genuinely held. Their reality was false, but to them it was just that: reality. The guardian, Dr Misch and Dr Morgan, all of whom had concluded that the children were not at risk from the father, also concluded that further contact would put the children at risk of future harm. If an order for contact was made, it seemed likely that the same cycle would repeat and the children would end up embroiled in more litigation. There were also concerns at the effect upon the children if they felt that their clear wishes and feelings were being ignored. The judge described this as a 'running into the road case'; a case where the children have expressed such strong views that they do not wish to be with their father, they might put themselves in harms way if made to see him against their wishes.

About the Author

Aarti is a specialist family and children solicitor practising at Ian Henery Solicitors Ltd in Willenhall. Aarti is extremely passionate about her role as a lawyer. She cares about each and every client...

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