High Court judge warns of damaging feuds between parents

TeenagerA 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.

She declared:

“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. “

She added:

“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.

Photo by Horia Varlan via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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11 comments

Chris Mackney - December 25, 2013 at 2:53am

Bravo to Judge Parker! More Judges need to start speaking out like this.

My case is as bad as it gets because the judges involved refused to acknowledge patterns of alienation and abuse.

The more people who call it abuse the sooner the abuse will end.

Peter Redmill - December 26, 2013 at 9:26pm

All praise to a Mrs Parker who recognises Parental Manipulation/Alienation for what it is – Child Abuse of a Particularly Insidious nature – and has the courage to take decisive action against it.
Let us all hope that this judgement will set a precedent and example to other family court judges.

Lou - December 27, 2013 at 11:15am

oh dear oh dear here we go again. A woman who has been a victim of a series of crimes is accused of angry at her ex. funnily enough everyone who is a victim tends to hate the person who violated them. the police are useless

so women get trapped in these relationships
it’s not just a domestic it’s a person on person violence
the children would have seen the violence and will stick up for the mother

Luke - December 27, 2013 at 6:22pm

This is a very interesting case and very unusual I think too.

I note that it is a female Judge who has questioned the many unvalidated claims of any or one-sided domestic violence and seen some of them for what they often can be – a tactic to win in court.

Name Witheld - December 30, 2013 at 12:24pm

I had similar to this with my ex wife. She made un successeful acusatin my dad abused my five year old daughter. This was un successful with the social services involved. The cam to the conclusion that is was my ex wife that was putting words and behaviour patterns in to my daughter mind.
This type of behaviour shoud be bought to justice nd the inflictor shoudl be at least made to be embarassed by this.

Tristan - December 30, 2013 at 6:20pm

The judge would have done even more good by using the standard terminology for parental alienation and not endeavour to use some new-fangled term of her own. Implacable hostility is another favourite misnomer; often the hostility involved remains disguised, invisible or too subtle for such description. Child alienation is far more prevalent than courts will admit to and, another inconvenience for the courts, inflicted mainly by mothers.

Parental alienation is what is the tin. It ought to state that on the outside too. It ought too to be regarded firmly as a category of domestic abuse and subjected to the same mandatory practice direction 12J applicable to domestic violence cases. Until all judges are told to roll up their sleeves, the likes of Mrs Justice Parker, for all the good she may personally have done here, are just pussyfooting around. The odd case here and there where the condition is obtusely described does nothing to confront the problem generally which is serious and widespread. Child alienation amounts to a sometimes irrepairable form of child abuse and it is time that courts formally acknowledged the issue and utilised the same procedures which they happily apply to violent fathers.

Paging Mr Justice Cobb, paging Mr Justice Cobb . . . .

Involved Father - January 4, 2014 at 9:38am

Its nice to see that an open mind looking at all aspects and not just accepting he did this, she did that. I feel that equal parenting is better and more balanced approach often swept under the carpet. Couples raise children together before a break up so if possible (or appropriate, some parents just arent up to the job ) it should continue after the break up, albeit in separate homes on an alternating basis ( one week with the mother next with the father) with the school holidays split as no job gives that much annual leave to cover it all. That way the children involved should have a equally loving relationship with both parents. If when they are older they choose to spend more time with one parent its the childs choice not a bitter parents enforcement. Also completely equal time would do away with maintenance that rarely gets spent entirely on the child/children as each parent would be responsible for raising in their care

Tristan - January 5, 2014 at 1:09pm

Involved Father, I agree with your sentiment. I also support shared parenting. I also believe that the law ought to be framed to work back from a legal presumption of substantial shared care on the part of both parties. I would not be so doctrinaire myself, however, to state this as a definite 50:50 law. I would not like to see a fair and compassionate judge stumped by a bloody-minded parent insisting on 50:50 to the detriment of a child’s home life.

At the moment the law works in reverse. What is presumed in law is a bare minimum of contact – in other words the very worst position for a non-resident parent seeking contact. This is where the law must change and dramatically so. A decent, deserving, non-resident parent ought never to be told by a judge that he can only see his child for two hours a week and that he has to build up from there via a series of consent orders. Leaving power in the hands of the resident parent is where courts cause, then cement, real long term damage to a child’s relationship with his father.

Involved Father - January 5, 2014 at 10:56pm

Like I said tristan, that arrangement isnt for everyone. Not all parents fit into that sort of frame work, it cant be a black and white situation for all so it must be adaptable and all courts need to recognise that rather than as you say the non-resident parent fighting for scraps effectively. Many are still stuck with very old school values which with modern society thinking I find very odd, if in any other situation a women was told that her place was as home maker raising children there would be uproar and rightly so. To pigeon hole anyone or tar them all with the same brush as everyone else can only be detrimental for all involved

Resident Dad - January 8, 2014 at 3:22pm

The judge has done the right thing, although she should have used the correct term of parental alienation. Back in 2003 Judge Kushner transferred residence of my 3 yr old son, from mother to father, for the similar reasons, and since then I have facilitated near 50-50 shared care with the mother. When there is one parent who is thwarting and interfering with a child’s relationship with the other parent, changing the balance of power/control is often the best option. Maintaining the status quo rarely sees shifts in behaviour, and in cases like these fathers need to step up and ensure they have the ways and means to handle being the primary carer, so that a judge is empowered to make such orders in their favour. Far too often the judges are not willing or able to make such a decision or remedy as many fathers aren’t fully prepared to manage the change in parental power. Another alternative is to go for a Shared Residence Order which could have the same affect as neutralising the controlling and manipulative parents abusive behaviours. I know so many dads who blindly seek Contact Orders as a remedy for such behaviour and its the wrong course of action, and is no solution to alienation or recalcitrant parents. We have to accept that with separation and divorce change is inevitable and a consequence of this. Judges and fathers (mostly) need to be prepared to take on the primary duties when the need to change residence becomes the only real remedy to the problem at hand. There also needs to be more support for fathers facing such a change in parenting role. Many fathers can and do cope as well or as badly as mothers in these compromised parenting roles, but that is no reason not to seek greater support systems for all parents.

Kenneth Burgoyne - March 23, 2014 at 11:51am

Hi Can anyone supply the case number for this case? I would like to use it in my own family court application. Due to financial reason I represent myself and I’m dealing with the full force of Judicial and Children’s Services gender bias, my reasons for bringing the application have been lost in the aftermath of mother sympathy while I witness on a daily basis parental alienation being forced on to my children by her and her gender fem friends. Thanks in advance if anyone can.

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