A High Court has warned of the emotional harm inflicted on children by warring parents.
Giving judgement in a case involving living arrangement for three boys, Mrs Justice Parker said parents who manipulated their children in disputes with their former partner did great damage to their children’s wellbeing.
“Parents who obstruct the relationship with either mother or father are inflicting untold damage on their children and it’s about time the professionals truly understood this. I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. “
The couple’s marriage had broken down and the mother had made allegations of violence against the father. According to a report in the Telegraph, these claims were “uncritically” accepted by the local authority. The council also ignored evidence presented by the father that his ex-wife had emotional problems.
Mrs Justice Parker said:
“I take domestic violence extremely seriously. It is a terrible social evil when it exists. But not all allegations of domestic violence and abuse are true and at the end of a stormy and difficult marriage as this has been between the parents of the children, it is very easy for parents to re-write history in their own minds.”
The judge resisted calls for the local authority, as well as the children’s legal guardian, to allow the three boys to continue living with their mother, after hearing evidence of emotional manipulation.
The former couple’s 15 year old son had been engaging in violent behaviour and had sent text messages to his siblings urging them not to see their father. The judge described these as “disturbing”.
Mrs Justice Parker described the boy as the “carrier for toxic emotions in this family”, saying:
“At his age, he should be regarding both of his parents as out of touch and useless – rather than siding with one against the other. I am in no doubt that he feels he needs to fight his mother’s corner on contact. I don’t think that he is developing as he should under her influence and in her home. I cannot trust him to co-operate and I think it’s doing him harm. “
“The extent to which he has become a knight in shining armour for his mother is truly concerning.”
The social workers’ argument that he and his siblings should continue living with their mother was not in their best interests.
“Much as I would like to give these boys Christmas as they believe they want it, it is unsafe for them to spend Christmas Day with their mother and her family.”
The 15 year-old should go and live with his grandmother, she ruled, while the younger boys should live with their father, who had a clearer view of their best interests than their mother, and had also shown more empathy. The new living arrangements will continue until the case returns to court. Meanwhile, the mother can only see the older boy while supervised.
Many family lawyers will have come across extremely strong parents who control their children by using extremes of emotion that the children are powerless to resist. Often this parent will portray themselves as the victim, someone who could not possibly be at fault, and even as physically ill. Sometimes the children will accompany this parent to meetings with the lawyers, be encouraged to take control, be constantly praised by the manipulative parent for how well and how admirably they are coping and so forth.
This terribly obvious, dangerous and unpleasant strategy is very difficult for lawyers tasked with representing that parent to deal with.
And sadly for the children, if the parent on the other side has effectively escaped, has formed a relationship with someone else, is generally a weaker character, feels guilty, feels he or she has let the children down, then I am afraid the manipulative parent will in most cases quite simply get away with it. If the other parent does decide to fight, he or she will then be portrayed as evil, domineering, ruthless and so on – someone the children must keep away from at all costs. The children may be encouraged to not even to call him or her “Mum or Dad” They will use their given names or even in some cases, their surname. The children might also decide to change their surname, as soon as they are old enough, if the object of their hatred is their father.
The reality of what is happening – parental alienation at its most extreme – will remain carefully hidden, exactly as the controlling parent desires.
So, all credit to the judge in this case for having the perception, insight and concern to take charge. However, it has to said that her strategy may not work because the emotional damage to the children could be far too insidious and entrenched for change.