Parental Alienation?…. what would the Doctor order?
At PMC Family Law we scrutinised the issue of Parental Alienation within a blog posted in February 2017, following comments made by Anthony Douglas of CAFCASS.
This very real and damaging subject has again been making headlines following the screening of the new series of BBC1 drama ‘Dr Foster’ which depicts the bitter feud between waring ex-spouses and a young son caught in the middle.
It goes without saying that, in some cases, when a relationship breaks down the temptation is to try and inflict as much emotional pain on your ex-partner as possible. In the heat of the moment it is often difficult to take a step back and recognise that there are no “winners” or “losers” when it comes to separation.
At PMC Family Law, we are regularly instructed in cases where a party’s personal grievances against an ex-partner impact upon the children of the family.
Common complaints from clients include “my ex-partner dictates when I can see my child” and “my ex-partner believes that they are the most important parent”.
In reality, neither parent is more important than the other either in the eyes of the law or the child.
Provided there are no safeguarding or welfare concerns, the starting point for the court is that a child has a right to a relationship with both parents.
In Re C (A Child) (Suspension of Contact)  EWCA Civ 521,  2 FLR 912, Munby LJ (as he then was) held that ECtHR case-law had established that:
- contact between parent and child was a fundamental element of family life and was almost always in the interest of the child;
- contact between parent and child was to be terminated only in exceptional circumstances where there were cogent reasons for doing so, and only if it would be detrimental to the child’s welfare;
- there was a positive obligation on the state, and therefore upon the judge, to take measures to maintain or to restore contact;
- the court had to take a medium-term and long-term view;
- the key question, requiring strict scrutiny, was whether the judge had taken all necessary steps to facilitate contact as could reasonably be demanded in the circumstances of the particular case;
- all that said, at the end of the day, the child’s welfare was paramount.
Despite the above, we are still instructed by distraught parents who have simply been told by their ex-partner that their child no longer wishes to have a relationship with them. In cases where there has been no legitimate trigger event, this can be a red flag and depending on the specific facts of the case, consideration may need to be given to the possibility of parental alienation.
In the case of H (Children)  EWCA Civ 733, Mrs Justice Parker was forced to transfer residence to re-establish a relationship between children and parent. Within her judgement she said as follows:-
“74. I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but also with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional. Bearing in mind the documented history of this mother’s inability to control these children, their relationship with one another and wholly inappropriate empowerment, it strikes me as highly damaging in this case. I am disappointed that the professionals in this case are unable truly to understand this message. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal, Re M (Children)  EWCA Civ 1147 requires to be read by all practitioners in this field. Lady Justice Macur gave firm and clear guidance about the importance of contact. Parents who obstruct a relationship with the other parent are inflicting untold damage on their children and it is, in my view, about time that professionals truly understood this.”
‘Dr Foster’ fans will have undoubtedly been left feeling somewhat uneasy having watched the shows’ main character return home only to find her ex-husband in her kitchen. Matters got progressively worse when their young son then announced that he was going to live with his father and they drove off into the sunset back to the million pound mansion within which the father resides with his new, young bride.
In that case, Dr Foster’s ex-husbands’ agenda is clearly to isolate her, alienate their son and ultimately persuade her to move away allowing him to get on with his new life in her absence.
If PMC Family Law were instructed by Dr Foster, we would be strongly advising her to consider making an urgent application to the court to secure the return of her son to her care. Unfortunately, in cases of Parental Alienation, if you do not take swift action then the emotional damage inflicted on the child can be so severe that the relationship between parent and child can be lost forever.
If you are experiencing difficulties with an ex-partner when it comes to spending time with your child/children then contact the PMC Family Law team, headed up by Pauline McNamara on 0151 375 9968 for a free initial appointment to discuss your options.
Caroline Hamilton – Associate Solicitor