Court orders change of residence in parental alienation case

parental alienation

The ’nuclear option’, when it comes to intractable contact disputes, is to transfer the child’s residence from the parent denying contact to the parent seeking contact. The recent case of Re B (change of residence; parental alienation) is an example of the court using that option.

The judgment in Re B is quite long, and includes a huge amount of evidence from the parties, witnesses and professionals involved in the case. It would be quite impossible to summarise the entire judgment here, so I am just going to give a very brief outline.

The case concerned a nine year old girl, ‘IB’. Her parents lived together from 2004 and married in 2006. There are two older children of the family, but they were not directly involved in the case. The marriage broke down and the parents separated on the 13th September 2013 when, in the words of Her Honour Judge Gordon-Saker, the following incident occurred:

“IB got up, went into her parents’ room at about 6am. She wanted her father to read or play with her. He asked her to go back to bed. She stamped her feet, so he picked her up and put her into bed. She struggled and, at some point, her leg was scratched.”

Following this incident the parents argued. The father then went to work and when he got home the mother and the children had left.

IB has been the subject of court proceedings pretty well ever since. Initially the father sought contact with IB. Considerable efforts were made to make contact work, but these were hampered by the mother who, as Judge Gordon-Saker found, was alienating IB from her father in an attempt to stop all contact. In particular, she alleged that the incident in September 2013 had traumatised IB and made her afraid of her father. Judge Gordon-Saker found that this was not the case.

Eventually the father gave up on his application for contact and in August last year he applied for a change of residence. This judgment deals with that application.

As I said earlier, the judgment covers a huge amount of evidence. Critical, I think, was what was said by a psychologist who had assessed IB in the course of the contact proceedings, and reported in June 2015:

  1. He had found that IB was not traumatised. She had suffered emotional distress, but this resulted from everything that had happened since 13th September 2013, and not as a result of it. He went on to say:

“My opinion is that the distress and emotional disturbance that this child is experiencing as a result of having a relationship, and I suspect secure attachment, with her father eroded away and finding herself in a situation in which she feels she has no choice but to reject him and align herself with her mother.”

Judge Gordon-Saker said of this:

“A mother reading that could go one of two ways in my view. She could either think “I’ve got to do something to repair this” or she could think “If I carry on damaging this relationship, there will be no contact at all”. I regret that it is the second route that has been gone down by [the mother].”

  1. The psychologist also said:

“From a psychological perspective there is no reason why [the father] would not be able to meet IB’s needs. I would therefore say that unless [the mother] does demonstrate a dramatic sea change and start meeting IB’s needs by properly supporting her in re-establishing a proper relationship with her father then I would have no hesitation in suggesting and supporting a change of residence to the father…”

Judge Gordon-Saker made the following findings:

  1. “This child is continuing to suffer harm in her mother’s care. If I leave her in her mother’s care with no contact that will not change. She will continue to suffer harm. She knows her mother’s story is not right and the outcomes of parental alienation identified by [the psychologist] will come to pass. It seems to me there has to be change.”
  2. “The risks of harm from IB not seeing her father are very clear. She will not be allowed a meaningful relationship if she stays with her mother. She is not a happy child and her mother has not put her welfare first. Therefore, she simply will not change. [If she continues to have] her main home with her mother, this child will continue to suffer harm. Her mother has shown she does not have the ability or willingness to put her daughter’s needs first.”
  3. “There are risks in a move to the father. It is possible it will not work. But IB, in my judgment, deserves a chance to be happy again and to have a relationship with her father. All of the evidence tells me he can meet her needs, including the need for a relationship with her mother. I know she will suffer harm if she stays where she is.”

In the circumstances Judge Gordon-Saker made an order for the immediate transfer of residence to the father. She also made orders relating to IB’s contact with her mother, and approved a suggestion that the parents attend a family separation clinic, which can help them rebuild relationships.

I hope the above brief summary does justice to this case. Transferring residence is an extremely difficult issue, and anyone interested in it would do well to read the full judgment, which can be found here.

Image by Cuyahoga jco via Flickr under a Creative Creative

John Bolch

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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26 comments

Paul - May 11, 2017 at 10:34pm

Very strong verdict. This is the kind of judgements which are needed to overcome parental alienation. Its interesting to see that they can get things right sometimes. Maybe the judge was bored of hammering dads all week an decided to have a change.
I fear I will not get anything like this because my children are older 12 and 14 respectively. An I have not paided any legal professionals along the way.

Vincent McGovern - May 12, 2017 at 12:43am

Very brave and commendable of HHJ Gordon Saker. The problem too often with the few transfers of residence that do take place, is that the child is so alienated and emotionally damaged after the years of systemic parental alienation I sometimes wonder is it worth it. A far more robust insistence on meaningful shared parenting and enforcement of court orders rather than the risible tiny percentage current would inevitably lead to much better outcomes for children. In short, children before ideology and an outdated Ovaltine view that only mothers can rear children.

Paul - May 12, 2017 at 10:14am

I still think enforcing the seperation before any level of trial or enquiry is totally wrong. The damage done by seperation lasts forever. It cannot be repaired. I think contact centers should be used right from the very start so its much harder for alienation to take place. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a very important factor in Alienation. If daddy is out of sight its much easier to convince the child he is no good.
The ‘incident’ in this case is beyond rediculous. A normal parenting incident. As if they have enforced a seperation based on that. How awful. Can only imagine what the guy felt like. In times gone bye women making abserd claims like this were refered to as ‘neurotic’ and were not taken seriously.

Marie - May 12, 2017 at 12:43pm

Wish judges would see the mothers for what they are in the 1st place . My sons ex made slot of allegations and there was no evidence yet 2 & a half years later he’s still hasn’t seen his son corrupt court case if you ask me ! Then we found out she had 2 family members who worked in the courts 1 of them on our court case.

Brian - May 12, 2017 at 2:07pm

…and if we’re in any sort of democracy we are led to believe…that would be newsworthy and in the public interest to be published in full detail less the children’s identities! Considered going to the tabloids newsdesks?!

Marie - May 14, 2017 at 4:12pm

The press wouldn’t take a child’s case on to fragile but I’ve been told I could write a book the amount of floors in the case and I have all the proof

Brian - May 12, 2017 at 1:25pm

I see my comment got pinged off! ONLY TOOK 4 YEARS!!! One swallow doesn’t make a summer and this doesn’t happen half as often as it should nor does it happen as swiftly as it should. Damage is already done!

Paul - May 12, 2017 at 2:31pm

Agreed..

Brian - May 12, 2017 at 2:36pm

If you agree with what the moderators do publish of mine, I wonder if you agree with what I say the moderators don’t?!

Paul - May 15, 2017 at 11:07pm

Unfortunatly my agreement will change nothing. The moderators are in a better possition to effect change so hammering them wont help you. Im not sure there are many legal people who agree with the system in place. We need more to stand up and say so. At least they are giving us an outlet to speak here an they are not over moderating. Make the most of it. They are well aware how angry we are.

Peter Davies - May 13, 2017 at 10:15am

I notice how certain commentators appear to prefer the description ‘intractable’ nowadays. ‘Implacable’ seems to have drifted out of vogue because people realised that cases could only be called implacable after there had been numerous attempts to placate an abusive parent. This demonstrated systemic failure, lack of expertise and training because judgments indicated that court professionals repeatedly failed to notice and act upon abusive behaviours.
Rather than deal with a problem the choice of a different word has effectively swept it under the carpet. Now the word of choice is ‘intractable’. This conforms with the conventional wisdom that only those parents that are too immature, vindictive, argumentative, uncompromising, difficult, stubborn, rigid, etc etc resort to the courts. Whereas, the reality is that for some devoted parents the only way that they can salvage a relationship with their children, and possibly rescue them from the clutches of an abuser, is via the courts. Let’s put this another way; the only way that some children can be rescued from being emotionally abused is by allowing and supporting their non-resident parent to resort to the courts. Some fathers really are caped crusaders because they maintain their devotion, care and unconditional love relentlessly and in spite of a system in denial.
However, John is not being accurate here. The judgment does not use the word ‘intractable’ once but uses the term alienation 4 times. This judge is being very clear about what this case is about. Just like Wall as far back as 2003 and many others since the judge uses the correct terminology throughout by referring to alienating behaviours by name because in this case that is exactly what they were. She repeatedly uses the appropriate language whereas, in paraphrasing her accurate words, John Bolch substitutes terms that conform with a popular but mistaken narrative.
Far from being a case involving ‘…a nuclear option when it comes to an intractable contact dispute’. It is a case that treats emotional abuse like any other form of abuse by removing the child from the abuser. It is high time that pure alienation cases are recognised for what they are. Cases of pure alienation, which form a sub-set of the 10% of family disputes finding their way to the family courts, involve serious mental health problems where emotional abuse and coercive control are used to manipulate a child, a parent, the court and the various professionals involved. They are much more than parental squabbles involving people that are unable to solve their problems like the 90% of parents that do not resort to the courts. But, let us not forget that the 90% includes the roughly 30% of NRP’s that loose contact with their children altogether.

Peter Davies - May 13, 2017 at 1:17pm

I forgot to mention that, just in case anyone is in any doubt about the focus of this judgment, the judge uses the words ‘harm’ ‘harmful’ etc a total of 28 times. We can safely say this is not a mere contact dispute!

Marie - May 14, 2017 at 4:21pm

Need judges like this bringing to Teesside !

Anth - May 15, 2017 at 8:34pm

I agree Marie, I will be in Teesside Combined Centre …PA at it’s worst in my case; but I know what the plan is and hopefully it will work out over time.
(*Edited by the moderators)

Marie - May 16, 2017 at 10:46am

Thank you so much for your reply . My sons case it the worst I have seen . We have spoken to various ppl about this 1 saying this should be a police matter the case is attrosious all in the case have played a part except the barrister who first words were this case is a shambles and has been from day 1 he advised us to withdraw as we were out of time limit to appeal . They have used there power of office to prevent my son getting PR and contact based on alligations. Even the Cafcass section 7 is a joke my son has never been violent and is a risk around his son yet the exs new boyfriend had 24 domestic violence against his ex partner but because Cafcass knew my sons ex and her mother he’s not a risk . This case has more than 1 conflict . The judge must of knew the 2 family members who worked in the courts 1 of them working on our case unbelievable. I could go on I have slot of proof on everything that’s gone on as I have been looking into things and gathered a lot of information on these ppl involved.

Paul - May 15, 2017 at 11:28pm

Peter Davies I would reguard any kind of lost contact with a decent parent as ‘harm’ or ‘harmful’ shame judges dont see it that way.
The wording of ‘implacible’ or ‘intactible’ is neither here nore there. This is not scrabble or count down.
A word which does need scrutinising is the word ‘Abussive’
If you declaire some one ‘abussive’ then you are making a JUDGEMENT. How come so many young ladies are aloud to come into a court room and make ‘judgements’ ? – and people listen to this as evidence. Surely the woman should be asked to explain the behaviour in question and let the judge decide what is abussive and what is not ???
In legal terms what constitutes ‘Abuse’ ? Think you will find it is very specifically defined.
If a woman is claiming ‘abuse’ it is not right to let that go unchalenged. Without asking the person to elaborate. Such a lable should never be applied arbitarily. Such a thing should not be down to the perspective of the applicant.
The only person using the term ‘Abuse’ ‘Abussive’ or ‘Abuser’ should be the judge when passing sentance.

Peter Davies - May 16, 2017 at 12:44pm

Hi Paul
Thanks for sharing your views.
The NSPCC define abuse thus: ‘Child abuse is any action by another person – adult or child – that causes significant harm to a child. It can be physical, sexual or emotional, but can just as often be about a lack of love, care and attention. We know that neglect, whatever form it takes, can be just as damaging to a child as physical abuse.’
Far from applying the ‘lable’ (sic) abuse ‘arbitarily’ (sic) I have done so with reference to an authoritative definition and a judgment that uses the word ‘harm’ and various derivatives of it a total of 28 times, mostly in the context of a parent’s behaviour. If you wish to argue that is insignificant then I wish you all the best with that one.
By the same token it would not be wise to argue that ‘The wording of ‘implacible’ (sic) and ‘intactible’ (sic) is neither here ‘nore’ (sic) there’. I am not alone in my view as Deborah Eaton QC and others confirm, (see ‘Deborah Eaton QC, Stephen Jarmain and Lisa Fabian Lustigman ‘PA: Surely the Time Has Come to Effect Change’ (2016) Family Law 581’). It is just as well this is not scrabble or count down (sic) because you would have scored nothing and lost a valuable turn in each case. However, the distinction between the two words is highly significant as is the fact that judges are now using correct and accurate language to describe the phenomenon of parental alienation. That is a step forward that I wish commentators and others would adopt.

Stitchedup - May 16, 2017 at 3:14pm

Peter, there is also the issue of abuse directed at the alienated parent by the alienating parent. How would you define that form of abuse?

Peter Davies - May 16, 2017 at 7:55pm

Hi Stitchedup
I hoped that the offence of coercive control, defined in the serious Crime Act 2015, would include many typically alienating behaviours. Whilst it does, the scope of the Act is very narrowly defined so it does not apply to most alienation situations where ex partners are living apart.
I can’t think of anything more coercive than using child arrangements as currency or as a means of blackmail and coercion but unfortunately the existing law does not cover the alienation situation so in my opinion the existing law is deficient.

Paul - May 16, 2017 at 4:12pm

Implaceable was never an adiquate term for this hostility because the source of the hostility is quite easy to place. The child is ushually echoing the hostility that the PWC is harbouring. Which they customarily deny in court of course. Fact of the mater is in order for the term ‘abuse’ to be used then you need to investigate if harm has been actually done to the child at all. And who is responsible for it. Is it the NRP or the way the PWC is explaining things to the child. The nature of ‘alienation’ means that the PWC will distort the childs perception by using basic psycology like posative and negative reenforcement. Courts are failing to do that. They are not establishing where the childs emotional problems come from. If they have not done that then the term ‘abuse’ should not be applied.
You also have to factor in if ‘abuse’ occours with intent or inadvertantly.
The term abuse is becoming opem grounds to convict people. With all defense been ignored. This goes along way as a malivious accusation.

Michael - May 16, 2017 at 9:50am

This is a strong decision by the Judge. But of course it’s not the end of the story.
Will the change of residence work or will this poor unfortunate child threaten, for example, self-harm unless she returns to live with her mother?
As a society we need to get wise to Parental Alienation, and develop methods to deal with it at an early stage. I fear here the damage may already be beyond repair.

John Smith - May 16, 2017 at 10:43am

Alienation is gender neutral. Men are just as capable of alienating their children against a mother just as women are capable of domestic violence.

Abusers are abusers however, they carry out the abuse. The public cannot expect the courts to be unbiased if they themselves continue to debate in a biased way.

Paul - May 16, 2017 at 11:32am

Utter bollocks John Smith. The problem is primarilly with women alienating men. Simply because they are ushually the PWC and are in a better possition to do so. These odd cases where men become alienators are lorded to the press to stop men claiming the system is sexist and discriminatory. (Search parental alienation on google. You will find the only video by the BBC and you guessed it. Its a male alienator) Of course there are men who become alienators. Just like there were once black men who became slave owners. When in Rome you do what the Romans do.The problem that needs to be disgust is ‘parental alienation’ and how to stop it. Changing the debate to be gender inclussive or gender non binary or any other kind of liberal tosh diverts from the real issue. One parent should not have dominion or a manopoly over a child. A child needs both parents to grow up happy and well balanced. When parents behave ‘unreasonably’ the child is harmed.

Stitchedup - May 16, 2017 at 11:44am

“The public cannot expect the courts to be unbiased if they themselves continue to debate in a biased way.”
What exactly are you saying John?? Domestic abuse is overwhelmingly viewed as a male on female thing as demonstrated by the fact that domestic abuse is categorised as a violence against women and girls offence even if the victim is male!!

Paul - May 16, 2017 at 12:06pm

Ageed. Courts do not even make the pretense of been neutral on DV. It is the most crysal clear example of dicrimination by gender. An its done by our courts.

Mike Cox - May 26, 2017 at 9:20pm

Transfer of residence was not a “nuclear option”, it was a therapeutic intervention carried out to secure the child’s best interests and psychological well-being. The use of such hyperbole is unprofessional.

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