Case: “My ex has stopped me having any contact with our children. We divorced a few years ago and I immediately had a mental breakdown. The end of my marriage was very traumatic and abusive. I could not stop crying. I felt worthless and completely useless. I admit that I was not capable of acting like a good parent. But when it came to Court, they overlooked the abuses I had suffered and zoomed in on my mental health and my ex got full custody. I am supposed to have regular overnights and contact but I am not getting any of it. Now I can’t even speak with my children. My ex says they don’t want anything to do with me. I am so low. I feel judged and the whole process has made me completely anxious. Nothing is helping. What can I do?”
Let’s start by talking about what parental alienation is.
Parental alienation is a series of processes one person undertakes in order to force no contact whatsoever between a non resident parent and the children of the family.
It includes but is not limited to —
- Ceasing physical contact
- Defying Court Orders
- Poisoning childrens’ minds against the non resident parent
- Refusing to allow telephone contact
- Refusing to allow indirect contact such as cards and letters
- Refusing to allow the children to receive birthday and Christmas gifts from the non resident parent
- Moving vast distances to make physical contact virtually impossible
- Inventing allegations against the ex-partner to distract Courts and Social Services from identifying the truth
- Using the children as leverage in order to force dominance and control over the ex-partner
- Denying the children access to their wider family such as grandparents
In fact, it can be very synonymous with traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
In reality, the only meaningful thing a parental alienation sufferer can do is to approach the Family Court and plead their case.
This is not a pathway which is easy, either.
Where children are involved, the Family Court instructs an intermediary called CAFCASS to do the analysis work, liaise with external agencies such as the Police, Social Services and Medical authorities, and to act as the ‘voice’ of the children.
Cafcass are notoriously bad for making summary judgements, taking sides and favouring one parent over the other; being very indoctrinated with the historical view that children should be raised by their mother; and for failing to clearly establish the truth of allegations where wrongdoing existed in failed relationships.
Why is this though?
Well it falls into two distinctly problematic areas.
- The ‘balance of probabilities’ test
- A failing in regulations to take responsibility for identifying key facts
A prior Police record can provide a fixed impression of an individual. Drunk and disorderly. Common Assault. Reports of Domestic Violence. Theft. Driving under the influence of [..]. But as anyone knows, to be human is to make mistakes. It is how we learn that is equally important.
But, how someone has reformed is not taken into proper consideration.
— an indelible wrong casts a very long shadow —
Where Social Services have been known to the family, their assessment process only seeks to record their various ‘voices’. The mother’s. The father’s. The child’s. It takes no responsibility for establishing the truth.
— where two people speak their truth, there will always be two versions of the truth —
Lord Justice Warby
As far as the Family Court are concerned, Child Arrangements Orders are a civil matter. This means that any finding in a case is done on ‘the balance of probabilities’.
What ‘their balance of probabilities’ means in reality is — whom can prove their case 51% or more.
Therein lies the flaw. If the Court slightly prefers one version of events over the other, this is sufficient to reach the standard needed for issuing a judgement.
Yes, the Court has a mechanism known as ‘Practice Direction 12J’ (also known as a Finding of Fact). But the standard remains the same. Who’s evidence the Judge prefers.
And this 12J process is not an extensive analysis. Only ‘Key’ allegations will be tested. Oral testimony will be obtained from the parents. It is then down to the inclination of the sitting Judge to arrive at one conclusion or another.
Cafcass do not consistently understand parental alienation, although they say otherwise and there is some recognition of it on their website which you can read here.
On the other hand, The law is rather unsympathetic to it because parental alienation is not defined currently.
There are, however, some key cases and I shall set down a few here —
Before His Honour Judge Clifford Bellamy in the case of D (A child : parental alienation)
This concerned a case where the father was (initially) given full custody of his son. The child’s mother sought, by various methods, to undermine the father’s relationship with his son by contriving allegations that the father had been violent towards his child. Residency was switched to the mother who then systematically sought to alienate their son from his father.
The case was brought to Court under an application by the mother and a cross application by the father. Two fact findings were held under PD12J and the Judge found that all the mother’s allegations were rejected.
Here is an excerpt from the judgement. The full judgement can be found here.
“Neither of these parents is entitled to legal aid. Both are out of scope financially. The father told me that he has spent in excess of £200,000 on this litigation since 2008. The mother has spent over £120,000. That is an eyewatering amount of money to spend in a battle to win the heart and mind of a child. These parents now need to invest their resources in trying to undo the immense harm that has been caused to this very likeable young man. They need to do that in partnership. [The child] needs to see them working together for his best interests. It is clear that he has seen very little of that in the past.
“Given [the child’s] age and the fact that the process of alienation has now gone on for some two years, repairing the damage caused is likely to prove challenging in the extreme. I doubt the prospects of success are good though I have no doubt that a serious attempt must be made. It is to that issue that attention must now be turned.”
In the second case, A (Children: parental alienation), the children’s father had originally applied for contact in 2011.
This is a harrowing and sad case. Custody was originally awarded to the mother. However, once in her full time care, she set about disturbingly alienating their children from the father.
Many Court hearings had taken place and eventually residency was switched to the father. Unfortunately, the alienation was such that their children ran away from the father and it was deemed unfair for them to be reunited with him. The father gracefully withdrew his application.
However His Honour Judge Wildblood stated in his judgement (Read here) —
“parental responsibility… requires her to act in the best interest of her children… to promote the relationship between these children and their father “. He went on to say “she had adult choices to make; the choices that she made were bad ones and deeply harmful to the children”.
What is a travesty, in parental alienation cases, is that the parents become so preoccupied with their own historical grievances that they altogether forget (or ignore) their needs of the children.
Children have such little choice in toxic parents’ relationships and their subsequent breakdowns. And it is so easy for them to become caught up in it and thereby suffer varying forms of neglect and abuse.
So parental alienation is one that has two direct effects — to the Children and to their non resident parent. This must never be overlooked.
In turning to your issues with depression and anxiety, I completely understand where these have come from.
I suspect, too, that you never had the opportunity to deal with the aftermath of a destructive relationship.
Mental breakdown is about crisis management and trying to find some form of transitional stability which generally comes from antidepressants and mood enhancers.
As much as you really need to pursue your case back into the Court, for you to have any success, you must be well first.
I would recommend you find a therapy that is right for you. Read my article about the different options here.
You deserve to be the best you can be — not only for your childrens sakes — but for YOU. And you can achieve that by taking positive steps.
Speak with your GP about treatment options. Ask them for a medication review. Surrender to these locked away and repressed emotions. It is not a sign of weakness, to seek help and support. It is strength.
Once you have achieved surrender, stability and feel reconnected to your inner self, then is the time to review your legal options and to get back in touch with your children.
Positive reports from mental well-being practitioners and your doctors will really boost your chances of a better Court outcome.
Maybe having something positive and beneficial to focus on, is what you need, right now.
And remember — sometimes you have to lose the battle, to win the war 🙂