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Parental Alienation

View profile for Louise Barretto
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I have written on this topic before but without much conviction that things would ever really change for the better. However, after reading the judgment of Her Honour Judge Gordon-Saker in the case of B (change of residence; parental alienation) [2017] EWFC I feel there is now light at the end of the tunnel.

I find this case extremely sad. It concerned a 9 year old little girl whose parents had separated in 2013 in difficult circumstances. The little girl lived with her mother and the court found that at the time of separation she had enjoyed a good relationship with her dad, but there was very little contact allowed after the separation and the mother was very controlling and manipulative about the time that the little girl spent with her father.

There had been at least 10 court hearings after which the dad took the decision to “step away” so as not to cause the little girl further distress. There was expert evidence supporting the fact that she was aware of the proceedings between her parents, felt very stressed by what was going on and felt divided loyalties between her mother and father.

The Judge made it clear that she thought the situation had been made worse by the lack of active case management at the earlier stages. Because of the good relationship the little girl had with her father at the time of her parent’s separation there should have been staying contact immediately, not the very inadequate 2 hours a fortnight in a contact centre, because the mother had wanted to stop contact. A Guardian was appointed to look after the little girl’s interests and she tried hard to make contact work, but her work was hampered by the mother who was very negative. As a result of the little contact and surrounded by the mother’s negativity the little girl started to resist contact.

The Guardian asked for an expert assessment by a psychologist but by this time the contact between the girl and her father had been reduced even further and now stood at only 2 hours every 4 weeks at a contact centre.

There were delays to the final hearing, the result of which was that, when it finally took place, there had been no contact for 14 months. The father, understandably, felt let down by our family court system which appeared to have accepted the mother’s version that she wanted to make contact work, when in fact she was doing the opposite.

Eventually the father lost patience and applied for a child arrangements order that the child go and live with him (in place of his previous application for contact only). In support of his application he relied on the report of the expert psychologist who was of the opinion that the mother was the cause of the alienation and psychological harm to the little girl. The father realised the huge significance of a change in the child’s residence and did not take his application lightly, according to the Judge.

The Judge had regard to the “welfare checklist” and decided that the most relevant factors in this case were the child’s emotional needs and the harm she had suffered or is at risk of suffering and whether her parents are capable of meeting her emotional needs.

Each of her parents was able to meet her physical and educational needs and although a change of residence to live with her father would have an effect on her in the short term, as she would have to change schools, it was likely to be in her interests in the long term if she would then be able to have a relationship with both of her parents. The Judge felt that this would not be possible if she remained living with her mother. Although the expressed wishes and feelings of the little girl at that stage were that she did not wish to have contact with her father, the Judge felt that what had happened since the separation of her parents, and the behaviour of her mother, had affected her understanding. The Judge felt that if the little girl had been given the true picture of her father and been allowed to enjoy contact with him properly from the beginning then she would wish to spend time with him and so it was important that the Judge took a wider view of the situation.

The judgement is detailed and thoughtful with a lot of helpful information about parental alienation and is worth a read for those parents who feel they may be in a similar situation.

The outcome after many years of nasty litigation and frustration, was that the little girl moved to live with her father and it was reported that she was also having contact with her mother.

This case is really important as it illustrates that the court is prepared to make fairly drastic changes where it is in the best interests of the child. I for one am very supportive of this approach.

If you'd like to discuss the above please call us on 020 7091 2700 and ask to speak to Louise or a member of the Family Team.