Judge orders child to live with his father due to mother’s alienation

In this blog, I consider a recent case in which a judge ordered the transfer of residence of a 12-year-old boy from his mother to his father as a result of the mother alienating the boy from his father.

The judge concluded that the mother had alienated H from his father and did not support the father having a role in his life

Facts of the case

The case concerned a child, H, aged 12, who lived with his mother in the Midlands. The parents were married in 2005 and separated in 2007. The proceedings in this case were the sixth set of proceedings between the parties concerning H. Previous proceedings related to the contact the father should have with H, which school the child should attend and holiday contact for the father. The wife made allegations in earlier proceedings of domestic abuse by the father, but no findings were made.

H had been in "exceedingly good contact" with his father and paternal family at the father's home in the south of England until March 2018. On 11 May 2018, H sent a WhatsApp message to his father that said: "Dad I am going to school, can you call my mum when you're in Coventry, see you then bye love you I haven't seen you in so long."

Three weeks later, H sent an angry message to his father in complete contrast to the earlier message. This later message indicated that the mother had allowed H to read an intemperate email sent by the father to the mother. There was no contact between H and his father after this date and the mother claimed she had no idea what could have triggered H's behavior.

These proceedings related to an application by the father for a transfer of H's care to him.

The evidence

In coming to his decision, Mr Justice Keenan relied heavily on the evidence of Dr Braier, a renowned expert in the field of parental alienation.

In her evidence, Dr Braier describes the father as "someone who builds strong relationships between family and friends, expending effort to achieve mutual warmth, reciprocal goodwill, congeniality and good cheer". She acknowledged the father's frustration and lack of control over his relationship with H and said that under duress "he can insist on getting his way… a more turbulent and aggressive personality then emerging." But she concluded, the loss of the parental relationship has triggered more reflection, remorse and a wish to re-establish his connection without interference.

Of the mother, Dr Braier said: "She experiences herself as a victim, badly treated by others, rising above it in a saintly manner in her mind, but not in practice. She constructs narratives based on her feelings, projecting her concerns and convictions out on the world, so that others' behaviours fit her own preconceived ideas and concerns… Her narratives are designed to reveal herself in the best possible light at the expense of any plausible understanding of the relationships around her, to the point where fantasy and ideals may impact on her grasp on reality at times."

Dr Braier said that H was "triangulated within his parents' conflictual relationship". "H is currently prioritising his mother's needs over his own, and no longer sees his relationship with his father as bringing anything but pain and complication into his life," she said.

She continued: "Mother's opinions about the father have been transferring to H gradually over time, and are now complete, with his independent rejection of contact. Mother herself would say that this is the result of H seeing 'who his father really is', but H's presentation suggests it is more likely to reflect alienation."

The judge then heard evidence of the author of a s37 report (a report prepared by the local authority by order of the court) that made only passing reference to Dr Braier's report and said H should live with his mother. In giving oral evidence in court, the author of the report made a complete about-turn in her evidence. The judge said the report was wholly inadequate and its serious omissions and deficits undermined its reliability.

Decision

The judge concluded that the mother had alienated H from his father and did not support the father having a role in his life. The judge felt the absence of the father from H's life would cause him emotional and social harm and the prospects of H having a meaningful relationship with his father were, at best, poor if he remained with his mother.

The judge said of the mother: "I did not form a positive view of the mother. She repeatedly lied in her evidence… It is plain to me, as it was to Dr Braier, that in reality she sees no benefit to H having a relationship with his father. She will not or cannot accept any other person's account of past events or actions which do not accord with her own views and perceptions. She had plainly alienated H against his father."

The judge ordered that H's residence be transferred to the father as this was the only way he can enjoy a relationship with both his parents. He ordered that H should not have any contact with his mother for three months during the transition to living with his father as this would be contrary to his best interests.

This case is a reminder that the courts are increasingly willing to consider a child's welfare when considering cases of parental alienation and will not shy away from moving a child from one parent to the other if it deems it to be in the child's best interests.

If you have any queries regarding arrangements for children on divorce or separation, please contact me at [email protected].