I will cut straight to the point: if you are involved in a dispute over arrangements for your child or children, and if the issue of parental alienation has been raised, then you would do well to read the judgment of His Honour Judge Clifford Bellamy in the recent case D (A child : parental alienation).
The case concerned a dispute between the parents over arrangements for their only child, who was born in 2005. The parents’ relationship broke down soon after the boy was born, and they separated, initially sharing care for their son. However, arrangements broke down in 2008, since when there have been two protracted periods during which the parents have been in virtual constant dispute.
Now, the judgment of Judge Bellamy is quite lengthy, and I could not possibly do justice to it here. He begins by setting out in some detail the history of the case. I will very briefly summarise by saying that between 2008 and 2016 the child lived primarily with his father, originally pursuant to a residence order made in 2008. It had been found by the court during the first period of dispute between the parents that the mother’s aim was to undermine the father’s relationship with the boy, and to achieve a situation in which the boy lived with her. Undeterred by the outcome of the first set out proceedings, the mother continued to pursue her aim in the second set of proceedings, which began in 2016. As we will see, with the aid of allegations of abuse against the father and alienating the boy against the father, the mother engineered a change of residence so that the boy now resides with her. What is more, the father has not had any contact with his son, direct or indirect, since January this year.
So the proceedings currently before the court comprise an application by the mother to vary the residence order and make a child arrangements order providing that the boy should live with her, and a cross-application by the father for a specific issue order seeking the return of the child to his care.
Before Judge Bellamy could adjudicate upon those matters he first had to conduct a fact-finding hearing, and that is what this judgment relates to. There were two sets of findings sought. The first were by the child’s guardian, relating to findings in respect of six alleged incidents of violence by the father towards the child. The second were by the father, who sought findings that the mother had systematically alienated the child from him.
Cutting through swathes of judgment (which includes useful discussions on parental alienation, and how it is dealt with by the family justice system), I will pass to Judge Bellamy’s conclusions, which I can actually deal with in short order.
In relation to the six allegations of physical abuse by the father, Judge Bellamy was not satisfied that they occurred as alleged. He therefore answered each of the allegations with the simple words: “Rejected. Father’s evidence of denial accepted.”
Turning to the parental alienation allegations, Judge Bellamy made three findings. Firstly, that he was satisfied that the boy had become alienated from his father. Secondly, that he was satisfied that the cause of the boy becoming alienated from his father was the mother’s behaviour. And thirdly, that he was satisfied that the mother had deliberately alienated the boy from his father.
Judge Bellamy concluded with these strong words, which should in particular be noted by all parents involved in disputes such as this:
“Neither of these parents is entitled to legal aid. Both are out of scope financially. The father told me that he has spent in excess of £200,000 on this litigation since 2008. The mother has spent over £120,000. That is an eyewatering amount of money to spend in a battle to win the heart and mind of a child. These parents now need to invest their resources in trying to undo the immense harm that has been caused to this very likeable young man. They need to do that in partnership. [The child] needs to see them working together for his best interests. It is clear that he has seen very little of that in the past.
“Given [the child’s] age and the fact that the process of alienation has now gone on for some two years, repairing the damage caused is likely to prove challenging in the extreme. I doubt the prospects of success are good though I have no doubt that a serious attempt must be made. It is to that issue that attention must now be turned.”
Let us just hope that the parents pay heed, and that at last both of them put the boy’s needs first.
You can read the judgment, all 261 paragraphs of it, here. As I said at the outset, if you are involved in a case where the issue of parental alienation has been raised, I would strongly recommend that you do invest the time in reading it.