Whilst we’re all aware of the clichés of distant, preoccupied fathers and passive, self-sacrificing mothers, the situation in real life has never been so straight forward and continues to restructure itself with each new generation. Even with the surge in support for fathers’ access rights in recent years, the unfortunate truth is that it is often more practical for children of separating parents to remain living with the mother and for the court to make a Child Arrangements Order for contact with the father. However, it is sadly not uncommon for the mother to refuse to adhere to the Order, creating excuses and justifications for why the child cannot, or should not see their father. Whilst in itself a frustrating situation for the father, what happens when the child begins to mirror their mother’s disdain?
This is what is known as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). It occurs when one parent effectively brainwashes their child against the non-resident parent, combined with the child’s own contributions towards his vilification. Particularly in younger, more impressionable children, this can develop the idea of “teams” meaning that they don’t believe that they can see their father without feeling like they are betraying their mother.
In the case of M (Children)  EWHC 1948 (Fam), the Judge was apprehensive as to the weight to place on the children’s expressed opinions of their father, pointing out the distinction between their real wishes and feelings on one hand, and statements that children make, and think they mean, on the other.
In this case the mother had continuously failed to meet the contact arrangements ordered, explaining that although she was encouraging them to, the children simply did not want anything to do with their father. After speaking with the children and hearing their rehearsed, yet confused reasons for not wanting to see their father, the Judge was able to see that they were clearly being affected by parental alienation. In response, the Judge took a firm stance and ordered that the mother be given one final chance to adhere to the contact arrangements, and should she fail to do so, residency would automatically transfer to the father.
As illustrated by this case, the courts operate on the presumption that it is in a child’s best interests to be given the opportunity to develop and maintain a meaningful and loving relationship with their father. Furthermore, it shows that attempts to try and frustrate this process are capable of being challenged.
Here at PMC Family Law, we are passionate about fathers’ rights and have an experienced and dedicated team of solicitors who can work with you towards securing and enforcing a Child Arrangements Order. If you are experiencing trouble securing contact with your child, or want to alter the arrangements you already have, then please call us today on 0151 375 9968 to book a free initial consultation.
By Sara Sadiq