Yesterday I wrote here about a recent parental alienation case in which the court responded by transferring the care of the child to the ‘alienated’ parent. Today I will be writing about another recent parental alienation case in which the outcome was very different and, many would say, far from satisfactory.
An exceptional case
The case is A (Children: Parental alienation), a decision of His Honour Judge Wildblood QC in the Family Court. He explained his reasons for releasing the judgment for publication thus:
“…this is such an exceptional case that I think it is in the public interest for the wider community to see an example of how badly wrong things can go and how complex cases are where one parent (here the mother) alienates children from the other parent.”
In the interests of anonymity, we are given a few details of the background of the case. We are not even told the ages or sexes of the children. We are only told that the case concerns an application by their father for contact, originally made in 2011, and involved “years of litigation, extensive professional input, the initiation of public law proceedings in a bid to support contact and many court orders” (there were no fewer than 36 hearings). As we will see, despite all of that, and despite the fact that various professionals involved in the case recommended that contact should take place, the father left the proceedings with no contact with his children.
The following paragraph from the judgment bears repeating in full:
“It is beyond doubt that, in the long-term, what has occurred within this family will cause these children significant and long-term emotional harm, even if they cannot understand that now. I have said it and so have all the experts in this case. I am afraid that the cause of that harm lies squarely with this mother; whatever may be her difficulties, she is an adult and a parent with parental responsibility for her children. That parental responsibility, which she shares with the father, requires her to act in the best interests of her children. It also required her to promote the relationship between these children and their father. She has failed to do so. She had adult choices to make; the choices that she made were bad ones and deeply harmful to the children.”
So why was the father left with no contact? Judge Wildblood sets out ten factors which contributed, including that there was a failure to identify, at an early stage, the key issue in this case, i.e. the alienation of the children from their father by the mother. By the time that it was identified, the damage had been done. Other factors included delay, the absence, at times, of collaborative working by professionals involved in the case, and the delay in joining the children in the proceedings.
The court had looked at the possibility of transferring residence to the father, and indeed at one point about two years ago a ‘trial transfer’ was attempted, following the recommendation of three experts. However, that went badly, with the children being extremely resistant, and running away several times. It became clear that the attachment between the father and the children was too weak for such a transfer to work – the extent and depth of the children’s alienation from their father and resistance to him were underestimated. There has been no contact between the father and the children since.
In the circumstances, it became clear that there was no way forward, and the father withdrew his application.
I will end my look at the case by quoting the first and last sentences of the judgment. The first reads as follows:
“In a recent report to the court, one of this country’s leading consultant child and adolescent psychiatrists, Dr Mark Berelowitz, said this: ‘this is one of the most disconcerting situations that I have encountered in 30 years of doing such work.’”
And the last sentence is directed to the father:
“I am truly sorry that this is the outcome and I do hope that you will find some happiness in the future despite all that has occurred.”
Whilst many would consider the outcome to be extremely unsatisfactory, this case is, of course, a demonstration that the courts put the welfare of the child above all other considerations, including the rights and wrongs of parental behaviour. Not that that will be much consolation to the father.
The report of the judgment can be found here.