A robust response to parental alienation
Parental alienation, where one parent's behaviour has the effect (intended or not) of alienating a child against the other parent, is the subject of considerable debate in family law circles.
And a large part of that debate relates to the perception that the family courts are weak when dealing with parental alienation. But this is not necessarily the case, as demonstrated by a recently-published judgment of the Family Court in Manchester.
Removing the father from the child's life
The judgment concerned a case involving a child born in 2016. The application before the court was by the father for, amongst other things, a child arrangements order.
Briefly, the history of the case was as follows.
The parents were not married, and their relationship ended when the child was born. The father was not named on the child's birth certificate, and as a result did not have parental responsibility for the child.
Notwithstanding this, the father maintained that he had a close relationship with the child, until he requested parental responsibility, in about December 2020.
The mother responded to that request by taking various steps with the clear intention of removing the father from the child's life.
Those steps included: making an unfounded allegation that the father had inappropriately touched the child; informing the father and the child that he may not be the biological father; stopping contact and telling the child that he would not be seeing the father again; and moving from Kent to the Manchester area, without telling the father where she was going.
As a result of the mother's actions, the last time the father saw the child was in January 2021.
In April 2021 the father made various applications to the court, including for disclosure of the mother's whereabouts, for a child arrangements order, and for a declaration of parentage.
However, matters became rather more urgent when the full extent of the mother's behaviour, both in relation to the child and towards the court, became clear.
Obstructive and alienating – Parental alienation
As the case progressed, the mother became obstructive towards the proceedings.
Obviously, the court needed to investigate the mother's suggestion that the father was not actually the child's biological father, and the way to do this was by paternity testing.
Initially the mother told the court that she was opposed to paternity testing. Notwithstanding this, in September 2021 the court directed that paternity testing take place.
However, the mother failed to comply with the direction (she had to make herself and the child available for samples to be taken). The court inferred from her non-compliance that the father was indeed the biological father, and accordingly made a declaration of parentage in favour of the father.
In March 2022 the court ordered contact to take place at a contract centre, with the mother present. However, the mother also failed to comply with this order.
Meanwhile, the court ordered a psychological report and a report from the local authority (it considered that it may be appropriate for a care or supervision order to be made).
These reports painted a very disturbing picture of the mother's alienating behaviour, including that the mother had attempted to manipulate the child to make false negative statements regarding his father; that the mother's hostility towards the father prevented the child from speaking positively about his father; and that the child was starting to develop a negative view of his father simply by being exposed to the mother's negative views of him.
In the circumstances the father made an urgent application to the court for a change of residence, so that the child should go to live with him. Both the child's Guardian (appointed by the court) and the local authority supported the application.
Partner and Solicitor and Head of our Children Law Team
Hearing the father's application, the court found that the child had suffered, and would continue to suffer, significant harm if he were to remain in the care of the mother, and that that harm outweighed the potential harm to the child from removing him from his mother's care.
The court therefore ordered that the child should move to the father's care.
As to the mother, the court ordered that she should have no contact with the child for two months, so that there would be no disruption of the child's ability to settle into the father's home. Thereafter, any contact should be guided by the local authority.
All in all, a very robust response from the court to the mother's alienating behaviour.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.