Dealing with a parent who won’t let you see your children

family law

ASK A FAMILY LAWYER

In this regular column, Stowe Family Law solicitors answer readers’ questions on different legal issues.  Today’s topic goes to Graham Coy, a Partner in our London office. If you have a question, send it to ask@stowefamilylaw.co.uk and we’ll choose one to be featured in the next Ask A Family Lawyer.

Blog reader H asks:

I have a long running case for contact with my two boys. The court has ordered indirect contact with the eldest, who will be 14 in July, and direct contact with youngest, who will be 12 in July.

I previously had full contact – up until February 2014. Their mother then stopped contact, saying she could no longer promote it. 26 hearings later all Cafcass reports recommend resuming contact as soon as possible.

I have put a fresh application in but Cafcass now recommend that it’s not in the children’s interests to resume direct contact after such long period without seeing me. Instead they suggest continuing indirect contact.

To cut to the chase: the mother has not promoted contact or is not willing to and stated that she has left it to the children to decide. She claims they are too traumatised to resume contact.

I believe the children have been and subjected to coercive hostile parenting because of her failings. So what I can expect from the courts who have the statutory power to resume contact? There are absolutely no safeguarding issues.

It’s simple as this: the mother won’t promote contact due to her entrenched view of me.

 

Graham replies:

I was very sorry to read about the problems you are experiencing in arranging to see your two sons.

You mentioned that Cafcass have undertaken a number of reports and that there have been 26 separate hearings, which is extremely unusual.

The first thing to mention is that whenever a court makes any decision about children, their welfare has to be the paramount consideration.

To assist the court, the Children Act 1989 sets out a number of factors which must always be taken into account. These are known as the ‘welfare checklist and include :

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings for the child concerned.
  • His or her physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • Any harm which he or she has suffered or is at risk of suffering.

What you do not mention is whether or not the Court has considered obtaining an independent report from a child psychiatrist.

In cases where there is high degree of disagreemnet or conflict between parents that can develop into what is known as parental alienation syndrome’.

There is disagreement within the medical profession as to whether or not this is a mental disorder but increasingly it is recognised as a problem that has to be dealt with, and dealt with seriously and quickly, before the children concerned are damaged even more.

Typically one parent, normally the principal or main carer, embarks on a pattern of behaviour, with a view to ensuring that the children concerned do not want to see their other parent. This can include making allegations of physical and sexual abuse against the other parent, or convincing the children themselves that they have been mistreated in one way or the other, so that when they are spoken to by, for example, Cafcass they make it clear that they have no wish to see the other parent at all.

In brief, it is a pattern of behaviour where one parent attempts to turn the child concerned against the other parent.

If this behaviour is allowed to continue, the child becomes totally alienated from the other parent and it is then very difficult to repair the relationship.

But it also creates an unnatural relationship with the parent who is making the allegations.  The child has only positive feelings for the parent who makes the allegations and only negative feelings for the other parent. They become unnaturally dependent upon the one parent they get to see.

Therefore, the child’s range of feelings for both parents is not that of a normal youngster and research has shown that in later life they may have great difficulty in forming stable, permanent relationships of their own.

I am not saying that applies to you and your sons but I certainly think that it needs investigation.

Returning to your particular circumstances I think there are a number of things you could do.

Firstly, you do not mention whether you have legal advice or representation.  If you do not, and you can afford it (legal aid is no longer available), then you should obstain some immediately.

Secondly, if this has not already been considered you should think about making an application to the court for your sons to be seen, independently, by an experienced child psychiatrist.

Thirdly, you need to ensure that the case is not allowed to drift.

And fourthly, I think you should be seriously considering whether or not your sons should come and live with you if, as you say, their mother is either unable or unwilling to promote contact.

Lastly, never give up on your children. Then, no matter what happens it is more likely that a court will ensure that you continue to play a role in their lives, even if you are not able to see them face to face. Eventually they will come to realise the importance of their father in their lives.

Graham Coy

Graham is based at the firm's London office.

His career as a family law specialist has spanned three decades. He is an experienced advocate, mediator and arbitrator who has worked in all areas of family law.

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16 comments

Paul Apreda - June 2, 2017 at 7:08pm

Hello Graham
Lovely to meet you and thanks for sharing your advice.
Could I invite you to attend the next meeting of the Welsh Assembly Cross Party Group on Fathers and Fatherhood on 13th June – where you’ll be able to learn a little more about Parental Alienation – and why we dont call it a ‘syndrome’.
We have made specific proposals to the President of the Family Division for a Practice Direction on Parental Alienation. This would go a long way towards ensuring a consistency of approach on this dreadful issue that is a form of child abuse and destroys the lives of children and families.
Do get in touch if we can help and if you can attend the meeting in Cardiff on the 13th
best wishes
Paul

Andy - June 2, 2017 at 7:14pm

You don’t need a court to tell you nor a solicitor to tell you the next stage from final divorce proceedings this is the next stage….
The courts are far out of touch with today’s issues surrounding the parenting or shared care as the CMS put it but even they are incompetent..
If as usual the parent with care PWC then starts refusing contact with the father NRP, as per this story many trips to court to fight for contact rights..Trouble is the mother disregards this all of the time and yet again trips to court to reinstate contact..
In such issues the children are forgot and it is clear who can get one back between both carers and this is all to often the case…

It’s easy for the legal advisor to support such comments as get legal advice but it comes at a cost so you are hit hard before you start then the lengthy financial penalty starts over again…
The mother usually, will mind bend the children thinking it’s the ex father who caused it all and as the story goes children soak up the information and make there own minds up..In time they get there own way of thinking and will come back unfortunately in the eyes of the law 18 years of age and nothing the sponging mother can do about it..Its a long wait but you will see in the end…Hold tight and win…

J - June 2, 2017 at 7:47pm

Excellent reply Graham, and your observations regarding parental alienation are very telling and very interesting.

I am, myself, in a dispute with my ex, I have legal representstion, costs me a blooming fortune, she has a “Public Access Barrister” who is, well I’ll not comment on his unprofessional behaviour here, but suffice it to say she is a woman who plays the victim card to the hilt.

The law is a complete ass, I see people blame family court, but it is not the courts I find the issue, its the system supportinf the courts and the outdated and biased laws, not to mention society as a whole, that automatically assumes Fathers must ask permission to see thier children and that mothers have some right to refuse access.

My ex lies every time she gets out of bed, I ran in to her for the first time ever, in a local Tesco on Sunday, I was already there and abou to pay and leave.. in she walks. Uncomfortable hello, we actually spoke for about 10 minutes, I then paid and left. She reported back to her PAB that I was waiting outside and tried to speak to her… I am waiting for his stock response of harassment or stalking… then I will be reporting him for harrassment as I can prove events.

The point I am making is that whilst the courts, and those working in Family law are doing a good job, they have 1 hand tied behind thier back due to outdated laws. I will not sit by idly and be blocked from my children, she did this with her now 17 yr old and her father, and yiur comments on the impact of alienation are spot on there, in October I start, at the ripe old age of 50, a law degree with the OU. I intend to specialise in Family law and get the law changed. I have already started this, putting together fundamental changes to the law and its Governance that I intend to speak to one of my local MP’s about post the GE, namely Mr Robert Buckland QC… Solicitor General.

If you would like to discuss, please feel free to use my email address supplied to contact me. The knowledge and experienced you have gained over your career trumps personal consternation and determinal…

stitchedup2(Paul) - June 2, 2017 at 8:07pm

Good advice. Its difficult to prove a case of parental alienation while you have no contact. The standard of evidence required is unrealistic. Our courts are very much out of touch on this issue. Have a look at the websites about gathering evidence to support PAS their are some good ones.
The number of women doing this appauling. Its become an epidemic. Becareful that your man does not get caught out. An alienator will typically use things like harassment and restraining orders against you. Even if you have done sweetfxxk all. Raise your voice and handcuffs will come out. The police will not listen to you. At all. Because of the Domestic violence agenda at the moment. The police do not need evidence. They do not listen to what a man says they will take everything the alienator says at face value. She can lie through her back teeth and will never be questioned. You will be shocked how badly they will treat you. Its a disgrace. Take care.

stitchedup2(Paul) - June 2, 2017 at 8:32pm

26 hearing later. This is the real issue with family law. The potracted proccess is ‘deliberatly’ drawn out for few reasons. 1. Gives people time to adjust. Learn to accept the unacceptible. Aka never seeing your kids again 2. Solicitors and legals get to rinse you. Make sure you have paid in to get a result. 26 appointments. Bet that cost you. 3. Once kids reach the age of 12-14 solicitors can wash their hands an say its the kid own choice and you can do nothing about it. You might as well have flushed a that money down the toilet.
The potracted nature of the proccess plays into the hands of the alienator. By the time you feel you have a case compiled. You children maybe irraparably damaged. You need to act quickly but the system is design to be potracted. Its awful. No idea how they can claim to put kids first in this horrible sitiation.

Paul Apreda - June 3, 2017 at 8:17am

Hi Graham
I have some great news for you – Legal Aid IS available and can be accessed by anyone who meets the Merit and Means tests.
We are now routinely obtaining the DV ‘evidence’ for everyone who meets the other 2 tests on the basis of a referral from a health professional to a specialist DV support service. In addition as Parental Alienation is a form of child abuse there may be other pathways to Legal Aid through Regulation 34
Paul

Peter Davies - June 5, 2017 at 9:48am

Firstly Graham, although once common, it is now rare for the phenomenon to be referred to as ‘parental alienation syndrome’ (PAS) it is now more usually simply termed termed ‘Parental Alienation’ (PA). In the English courts the Sturge and Glasser Report effectively kicked Gardener’s ‘PAS’ terminology into touch. However, some organisations like Women’s aid stick with the old nomenclature as by mischaracterising PA they make the conceptualisation of it easier to attack.
Secondly, the most recent diagnostic manual DSM V does not recognise the suite of symptoms as a separate disorder or syndrome however it does recognise and catalogue the component behaviours that comprise alienation therefore the various disorders that make up PA can be officially diagnosed.
Thirdly, although Anthony Douglas the CEO of Cafcass has recently spoken publicly about PA and likened the experience to being radicalised, ‘like living in a cult’, there is sadly precious little training routinely available to FCRs and what little there is is optional. Consequently. H and his solicitor would enhance his chances of seeing his kids if it were possible to have an FCR allocated who is at least aware of the particular difficulties involved in PA cases. The same goes for the judge allocated. H and his solicitor should do anything they can to try and get a judge allocated who is experienced in these cases. Otherwise it is useless.
Fourthly, it is sadly not that unusual for there to be as many hearings as H has experienced. I can give you a list of published cases if you like. It is a surprisingly long list. There are likely to be many more that have not been published. Unfortunately, it has been common for judges to merely tinker at the edges by making repeated court orders without addressing the issues in these cases and avoiding taking the swift and decisive action needed. Cafcass have also been slow to use all the tools at their disposal, such as family assistance orders, in order to assist positively. Awareness is improving but there does seem to be a disconnect between the higher and lower courts. Children and families continue to suffer as a consequence.
Fifthly, H says that there are ‘no safeguarding issues’ whereas Anthony Douglas and others have described alienation as ‘no different to any other form of abuse’. Therefore, his children may in fact be undergoing emotional abuse which is a potential safeguarding issue.
Sixthly, wishes and feelings are problematic in these cases. Typically, the expressed wishes and feelings are not those of the child and an experienced and skilled worker is needed in order to ‘ascertain’ the child’s true wishes and feelings.
There is a huge variation in the awareness of alienation amongst solicitors and barristers and others involved in the courts. H would be well advised to do his homework and engage people with a proven track record. Unfortunately, as there has been a large amount of media coverage, lots of people are claiming expertise when in reality relatively few will have any when it comes to the reversal of residence and dealing with false allegations.

Paul - June 5, 2017 at 10:18am

Websites gone quiet. Comments in perpetual moderation. Well I can only assume ive been blocked. Was only a matter of time. Free speach is a terrifying thing.

Cameron Paterson - June 5, 2017 at 10:45am

Morning Paul – no, you haven’t been blocked. We have been making some changes to the server which meant we had to go quiet for a little while.

Paul - June 5, 2017 at 1:02pm

Morning. Parnoid lol 🙂 thanks.

T - June 9, 2017 at 3:58am

Not sure if I should ask this here, it all seems to be just dads in this forum. But maybe you can give me some advise. My ex has kept my son from me for almost 7 years now. He refuses access of any kind. I have made several attempts and he has blocked every one of them legally. I have no money to hire a lawyer, and I have been seriously considering pro se. But I’m really scared. I don’t know if legal aid will even look at my case. He is in Texas, I Now live in Kansas. Now I have never been in any trouble in my life, don’t drink, no on drug use. So no reason why I have been erased. One of you talked about a lying ex, I have the same issue. Now my ex is nothing to sneeze at. He has 4 felony convictions, a long history of abuse, and drugs use and a heavy drinker. Not trying to discredit him. Just stating the facts. He is dangerous to say the least. I was to frightened to have him arrested, however the woman he threw me out over and moved in that same night wasnt scared and had him arrested for domestic violence. To be honest, he called the cops himself and asked the police officer himself, and I quite, “Hey _____, I just best up my wife, what are you going to do about it” the blank is because the officer and he knew each other fairly well. My ex is, to say the least, very confident. I really don’t know where to start, because of my mistakes that I made. I ran. I took my oldest son and went as far away as I could. It killed me to leave my baby behind. He was 5 then. But I had no choice. My lawyer quit durring our divorce and he won coustody. So I am sorry, I know I’m the “enemie” but please, any advise is helpful. Llike I said, it’s been almost 7 years since I have seen him, however my son in that time has seen my mom once and asked her why I left, and when is mommy comming to save him. She hasn’t been allowed to see him since.

Marie - June 8, 2017 at 9:44pm

Can you tell me how Cafcass and the courts can allow a mother partner with 26 domestic violence on police record around a child and see no risk yet the child’s father with no domestic violence on police record isn’t allowed contact because the mother made alligations and there wasn’t a scrap of evidence to support what she was saying . Just doesn’t make sense to me yet is all in black and white in the same Cafcass report

Paul - June 9, 2017 at 10:29am

Im in the same possition. No criminal convictions. No drug use. NO CONTACT.
It is rediculous. CAFCAS are not independant. They do what the court wants. If you do not pay a solicitor then you get no result. They act to protect solicitors jobs. Not to protect kids/families. This is a hostage situation. They are forcing you to pay the ransom.

Richard - July 3, 2017 at 6:11pm

While you say “Eventually they will come to realise the importance of their father in their lives.” that is unfortunately built upon a false assumption. In my case I have three intellectually disabled daughters who are now over 18, but in the care of their mother. Back when they were younger and I was able to see them some, they said on almost every visit “Why do we have to go home now? Why can’t we live with you?” or words slightly different. I even have one of those statements caught on audio. I have not seen one of them in 11 years, one in 5 years and the third in almost 3 years.
they will never be able to speak for themselves for every aspect of their lives is controlled by their abuser.
I have not been found guilty or deficient in any way. Every time the mother tells her side of the story it grows in what I have been told is called “recent fabrication”. In the latest attempt to see them, handled in the Probate Court, their mother said that on two occassions I attempted to MURDER her, a claim never made before about a time twenty years ago and in additon to it not happening, there is nothing to back it up, no police report, no relating to friends, nothing. It was made up out of whole cloth and the Court just swallows every stereotype in the book about Abusive Husbands. Unfortunately not all children have the option of making up their own mind and the Courts do not care enough to understand what is going on. They are endorsing the evil bcause of their willing ignorance.

JamesB - October 5, 2017 at 6:16pm

The whole ‘parallel parenting’ thing can work well when the children are younger, but as they get older in that model they tend to jump to one side or the other (I also take issue with the “Eventually they will come to realise the importance of their father in their lives” statement).

The less frequent “all rowing in the same direction” separated parents plan, works better but is hard, especially where strong feelings or abuse was and is present.

JamesB - October 5, 2017 at 6:19pm

Still, the time we had as single Dad and kids was special and I don’t regret it despite the existing PAS and not seeing them now they are older. It does help all, especially the children and the reward is seeing you haven’t F’d up your children too much even if you don’t see them very much, indeed, children should eventually move out if you are doing your job right anyway.

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