Parental alienation #1: Transfer of residence

Children|October 22nd 2019

In this and my next post tomorrow I will look at two recent cases dealing with the fraught issue of parental alienation. As we will see, the outcomes of the two cases were quite different.

The first case (albeit second in time) is RH (Parental Alienation), a decision of Mr Justice Keehan in the High Court. It concerns a 12-year-old boy, whose father lives in the south of England with members of the paternal family, and whose mother lives in the midlands.

The facts

The facts of the case may be shortly stated. The parents, both Sikhs, were married in 2005. The marriage broke down and they separated in 2007, since when there has been almost continuous court proceedings relating to their son. In the course of those proceedings, the mother made various allegations of domestic abuse against the father, but no findings were made, and some of the allegations were dismissed.

The child had been having regular contact with the father and his paternal family, which was said to be “of exceedingly good quality”, until March 2018. Since then there has been no direct contact between the father and the child.

Things took a turn for the worse in May 2018. The mother was involved in a minor accident, and the father sent her an intemperate email, stating that even if he had her arms and legs amputated, she had to make the boy available for contact. Later that month the boy sent a WhatsApp message to the father indicating that he did not wish to see him, and including the phrase “my mum was amputated like you said”. The mother had clearly told the boy about the father’s email or permitted him to read it.

The father then made an application for a transfer of the boy’s care from his mother to him. The application was opposed by the mother.

The case turned largely upon the evidence of a Dr Braier, who I believe is a consultant clinical psychologist, and who Mr Justice Keehan described as “one of the country’s foremost experts in the field of parental alienation.” She found that the mother had transferred her adverse opinions about the father to the child, resulting in the child rejecting contact with his father. The chances of the mother changing her behaviour so that the boy could be reunified with his father were assessed as low, and therefore Dr Braier recommended that a transfer of residence to the father was the only feasible route to reunification.

The decision

Mr Justice Keehan had no hesitation in accepting the opinion and recommendation of Dr Braier. He found that the mother had plainly alienated the child against his father – there was no other cogent explanation for the breakdown in contact in March 2018. He was wholly satisfied that the only means by which the child could have a full relationship with both of his parents would be to make a child arrangements order that he live with his father.

Then he set out the following “clear conclusions”:

  1. That the mother had alienated the child from this father.

  2. That she did not support the father having a role in the child’s life.

  3. That the absence of the father from the child’s life had and would cause, the child emotional and social harm.

  4. That if the child remained in his mother’s care, the prospects of him having a meaningful relationship with his father were, at best, poor.

  5. That the only means by which the child could enjoy a relationship with both of his parents was to transfer residence to the father – nothing else would do in the welfare best interests of the child.

Accordingly, he made a child arrangements order that he live with his father. Happily, we are told at the end of the judgment that the process of transfer of residence “proceeded without incident”.

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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