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/ 22 Jan 2021

Parental Alienation and Child Arrangements Orders

The judgment of Mrs Justice Judd in F v M & Ors [2020] EWHC 3532 (Fam), in which Hanne & Co successfully represented the appellant father, serves as a useful reminder that in cases of parental alienation, the court must exhaust all possibilities to establish contact before permitting the implacable hostility of one parent to deter it from granting a Child Arrangements Order.



Family & Divorce

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Parental Alienation is defined by CAFCASS as: “When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”

In this matter, the father first made an application for contact to the German court, where the family lived at the time. The mother moved the children to the UK in breach of a German order and the father sought the return of the children pursuant to the 1980 Hague Convention. That application was unsuccessful, and the father applied to the English court for contact.

The mother put a number of obstacles in the father’s way: failing to engage with the proceedings; failing to attend expert appointments; breaching orders and undertakings; making serious allegations against the father; threatening to abduct the children; and on one occasion abducting the children. At the final hearing the court made an order limiting the father’s contact to indirect contact, which the father appealed.

It is particularly important in alienation cases that the wishes and feelings of the child concerned are properly considered and that what is said by the child is not taken at face value. As Parker J stated at first instance, which was quoted and endorsed by the Court of Appeal in Re H (Children) [2014] EWCA Civ 733: “I have more than once stressed in this case, as in others, that the word used in the Children Act about wishes and feelings is “ascertainable” and not “expressed”. “Ascertainable” often means that the Court has to look at actions rather than words”. In this case, two of the children had enjoyed successful contact when it was facilitated by a consultant child psychiatrist. When a further session of contact was organized, the children said they did not want to go. It did not take place and no further session was arranged.

This case highlights the importance of the court carefully balancing the harm a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.  As Peter Jackson LJ stated in the Court of Appeal in Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult) [2020] EWCA Civ 568: “Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to long term welfare at the forefront of its mind…”. Mrs Justice Judd recognised that contact had been stressful for the children but found that too much weight had been given to the short-term practical difficulties in arranging face-to-face contact when the cessation of such would likely lead to the end of the children’s relationship with their father during their childhood, if not permanently.

Finally, the judgment serves to remind the court to formulate a focused strategy in cases of parental alienation, including the consideration of all enforcement options. Although committal proceedings had been brought by the father and breaches by the mother were found by the court, the court had not imposed any sanction, delaying sentencing until after determination of the welfare issue.

Cases of parental alienation are challenging for all involved. Parents facing such issues should ensure their representative has sufficient experience.



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