A typical child arrangements case

Children|September 18th 2019

Sometimes one comes across a law report that is of interest not because it says anything new or profound, but rather because it is an example of a typical case of its kind. The primary reason for such a report to be of interest is that it can give litigants a real flavour of what they can expect when they go to court. The report of the case K v L Re M, N falls into that category, in the area of child arrangements cases.

Specifically, as Her Honour Judge Williscroft, who dealt with the case, explained, the judgment concerned the impact of domestic abuse on child arrangements and an allegation of parental alienation supported by one of the experts only. Both matters, of course, commonly arise in child arrangements cases.

Now, the judgment is fairly long. I couldn’t do justice to it in a short blog post, and will therefore only give a very brief summary here. I would, however, recommend that it be read, especially if you are involved in a child arrangements case of this nature.

The background

The background of the case was as follows. The parents began a relationship in 2010 and were married in 2013. They had two children, born in 2012 and 2014. The marriage ran into difficulties, and in February 2017 the mother and the children moved ‘a long way out of area’, to a women’s refuge. A few days later the father applied to the court for various orders, including an order that the children should live with him.

In a judgment given in September 2017, the court found that the father had behaved in a “considerably abusive” way to the mother, over a prolonged period. Obviously, this finding would have a significant effect on the direction of the case. The father, however, did not accept the court’s conclusions.

The mother told the court then that her biggest concern was that the father would want to see the children and could take his own life and that of children. The court did not find this proved, as it was not a specific allegation set out before the court hearing took place. It was, however, a repeated theme, and something discussed in the hearing before Judge Williscroft.

Meanwhile, the father applied for an expert psychological assessment, and a psychologist was instructed. He strongly advocated a change of the children’s home and carer, as he considered this was a “classic case of parental alienation” by the mother.

In light of this, the court appointed a second expert, a consultant psychiatrist, with particular expertise in the area of parental alienation. She reported that she did not have concerns about alienation.

The case was eventually listed for hearing in April this year.

The judgment

After considering the evidence, Judge Williscroft preferred the advice and conclusions of the second expert. She considered that a change of home would be impossible for the children to cope with. As to the issue of the father’s contact with the children, she was not satisfied that direct contact would yet be safe, although she did say this:

“Time is, however, a healer and I do not feel the prospects of some direct contact taking place, even if supervised carefully are remote.”

And how much time might be required? Well, the only clue is given at the end of the judgment. Judge Williscroft accepted a recommendation by the consultant psychiatrist to engage the children in play therapy, providing a neutral environment in which they can find a way to speak about their wishes and fears – any plan about contact, and whether or not it is possible would emerge from that work. Judge Williscroft indicated that there would need to be up to a year of such therapy. This would also provide the mother with “some breathing space for reflection”, which would enable her position to potentially alter.

You can read the full judgment here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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