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England and Wales High Court (Family Division) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Family Division) Decisions >> RH (Parental Alienation)  EWHC 2723 (Fam) (03 October 2019)
Cite as:  EWHC 2723 (Fam)
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Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| Re H (Parental Alienation) PA
|- and -
(A Child by way of 16.4 Children's Guardian)
The 1st Respondent appeared in person
Ms A Musgrave (instructed by NYAS) for the 2nd Respondent
Hearing dates: 20th - 22nd August and 20th September
Crown Copyright ©
The Hon. Mr Justice Keehan :
"Having considered the authorities to which I have referred, and others, there is, in my view, a danger in placing too much emphasis on the phrase "last resort" used by Thorpe LJ and Coleridge J in Re: A. It is well established that the court cannot put a gloss on to the paramountcy principle in CA 1989, s 1. I do not read the judgments in Re: A as purporting to do that. The test is, and must always be, based on a comprehensive analysis of the child's welfare and a determination of where the welfare balance points in terms of outcome. It is important to note that the welfare provisions in CA 1989, s 1 are precisely the same provisions as those applying in public law children cases where a local authority may seek the court's authorisation to remove a child from parental care either to place them with another relative or in alternative care arrangements. Where, in private law proceedings, the choice, as here, is between care by one parent and care by another parent against whom there are no significant findings, one might anticipate that the threshold triggering a change of residence would, if anything, be lower than that justifying the permanent removal of a child from a family into foster care. Use of phrases such as "last resort" or "draconian" cannot and should not indicate a different or enhanced welfare test. What is required is for the judge to consider all the circumstances in the case that are relevant to the issue of welfare, consider those elements in the s 1(3) welfare check list which apply on the facts of the case and then, taking all those matters into account, determine which of the various options best meets the child's welfare needs."
"Dad I am going to school, can you call my mum when your in Coventry see you then bye love you I haven't seen you in so long"
Three weeks later, on 23rd May, H sent a message to his father which, in complete contrast, read as follows:
"Sure you did, well it's always my fault you can't win with you and I give up, for all these years I've put up with you and your bullish blackmailing but I will no longer you want to see me? Well you can see me in court I'm not coming just to get drilled by you and your family and ganged up on just because you were the one being rude to me I did what I had to do if I wanted to pass my sats rather than you moaning at me constantly when I come down you moan at me all afternoon until I sleep for anything but when you're an idiot to me it doesn't matter you threaten me 'smile for court/take my xbox time' you tell me to force my mum to do things and be rude to her and I was ill but you thought I was lying my mum tought me never to lie I haven't spoke you to you to concentrate well if my mum was amputated like you said then I will never talk to you again for what you said if I told my mum what you're saying she would protect me from you and she would be angry at you"
This unfortunate and unhappy position was maintained until recent months when H, once again, began sending WhatsApp messages and text messages to his father. The mother claims not to know what could have happened in that three-week period to so dramatically alter H's view of his father; she said she had not questioned him.
"Following on from your bullshit lies yesterday, and in case I cant get your backside in court before hand, you better get H to Cherwell on Friday 25th May. You screw that up and I promise you I will do everything I can to get residency I don't give a crap if you have had your legs and arms amputated you have a legal responsibility to get H to Cherwell. Your in last chance saloon, so think about the judges words to you"
The fact that H refers to amputation in his message of 23rd May, can only mean the mother told H about the father's above email or she permitted him to read it.
"PA is outgoing and gregarious, skilled in social interactions, socially buoyant, engaging others with infectious enthusiasm, attracting them into his causes, optimistic that others will view him favourably and treat him well.
He builds strong relationships between family and friends, expending effort to achieve mutual warmth, reciprocal goodwill, congeniality and good cheer, strengthening his own self-esteem and sense of worthiness in the process. A concern for his own welfare may at times come at the expense of others, though PA feels especially good about himself when he has been helpful to others, particularly when he is recognised or admired for his input."
"Taking his responsibilities seriously, if progress is slowed, blocked or complicated, PA's high investment can precipitate intense frustration, and where criticism is directed his way, reflexive hostility rather than openness to self-evaluation may follow. That said, his recent experiences with H have led to a much greater willingness to reflect."
"Under duress, he can insist on getting his way; a more turbulent and aggressive personality then emerging, and it is hard to decide how much of this reflects a temporary state rather than long term trait. At present, PA is fragile and has been easily provoked into retaliatory anger, with an undercurrent of defensive vigilance and hostility, ready to deprecate those challenging him."
"PA's frustration and lack of control over his relationship with H then, has probably intensified any prior temperamental vulnerability, with the aggression noted in the documents a desperate attempt to control and regain power. On the matter of its degree, however, mother reported threatening messages, but the police disclosure document did not support this, reporting 'aggressive, but not threatening', even though it did not 'excuse the aggressive nature' in expressing his frustration."
"Until now, PA has been so busy fire-fighting, that he has struggled to acknowledge his own end of responsibility for any personal and family difficulties. However, his despair at H's predicament now looking more set on a trajectory of loss of the paternal relationship, has triggered more reflection, remorse, sadness, and a wish to re-establish his connection without interference."
"Having described PA's childhood in wholly negative terms, TT described her own family history in idealised superlatives 'absolutely great, very loving…a team… my parents could not live a day without each other… inspirational to my upbringing.' She had the 'latest dresses and toys…always dressed me up to look so pretty'. She said 'I was my father's favourite child out of the siblings' and her mother was 'over the moon about my achievements'. There were 'never any disagreements, fall outs or dull moments.' She and her siblings always played together with many toys, some her siblings 'studious…head buried in books'."
"I wondered, in light of this beautiful family profile, why she was not living in the maternal family home where all the rest of her family are, benefitting from emotional and practical support and why she was the only child who would not inherit any part of the family home. She assured me that this was culturally appropriate and that she had matured into wanting her own independent space with H.
I confronted TT on how this idyllic family profile did not fit with the documented violent incident where her brother pushed their mother over, breaking her glasses, then punching TT (who somehow, through no fault of her own became involved) some 10-15 times. She said that at 'all other times', he was good, and they were close, and that 'when someone's a diabetic you gotta let them have their breakfast' and that in the case of her mum's part 'my mum has a bit of blood pressure'. Of her own injuries in the incident, she said 'I bruise very easily Dr Braier'."
"TT begins from a compensated position of poor self-worth, with self-doubt and jealousy, her interaction with others framed within a constricted mind set. She has an obsessive concern that PA (and particularly his mother who deems inflences him unduly) are malevolent in nature. Beginning from a position of feeling put down by others, with a conmpensating need to prove her worth, her sense of right/wrong and good/evil lead her to view the paternal family all things bad. There is splitting, with idealising and denigrating; a problem of integrating angry feelings with love"
"Explanations of TT sustaining her views of the father and transferring them onto H may indicate a wider problem of reflective function. Mentalising is the process we use to understand our own and others' mental states, intentions, feelings, thoughts, desires and beliefs. TT does not always make reasonable links between mental states and behaviour, creating realities reflecting what she wishes or fears, rather than what others are likely to intend."
"She experiences herself as a victim, badly treated by others, rising above it in a saintly manner in her mind, but not in practice. TT 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.
There is difficulty shifting that perspective in light of any new evidence. TT's reflective function can be distorted, unintegrated and almost bizarre at times, particularly when applied to the paternal family. 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.
People with such difficulty mentalizing may assume that what exists in their mind reflects what actually exists in the world, so their internal ruminations can prevail regardless. With reduced ability to take the perspective of others, there is greater difficulty for TT in making coherent sense of the emotional world in a manner which can act almost like a sensory deficit.
TT disavows any responsibility at all for what is happening between H and his father, suggesting it is entirely between them, with no personal role at all. What makes this bizarre is her failure to grasp that professionals will all have access to a documented history pointing to her own historical behaviour around contact as a more plausible explanation. This is the case, notwithstanding PA's own lack of sensitivity and loss of child-focus with argumentative/aggressive sibling-like behaviour with H in attempting to resolve matters."
"H's current expressed wishes may reflect mother's difficulty in providing H with an accurate mirror of his own feelings as a child. She would have been exploring and redefining H's experiences in terms of her own deeper concerns and needs, gradually changing his perception of what happens to him with his father (and possibly others) to fit her own view of herself as protector, so that she can continue to provide the special nurturing she feels H needs to feel safe and cared for.
This is likely to have made it harder for H to make coherent sense of his own world and relationships. His world is now also populated by a hero and villain view of his parents, and is likely to generalise into wider black and white thinking. There is a risk of H developing rigid schemas precluding him from making good enough sense of his social and emotional world to negotiate his relationships successfully as he matures.
TT is unable to use her professed principles of love, wisdom and tolerance, reportedly learned from her family, to make sense of others' intentions. There has been no forgiveness or tolerance for any of the father's weaknesses to help H sustain a loving connection when things go wrong."
"Expressively defensive, TT's personality contains paranoid and narcissistic features. She is vigilantly guarded and alert to warding off expected derogation and malice and possible deception. A very traumatic background of being badly burned and victimised by her peers, whilst being cared for and made to feel special by her father, has led her to compensate with an undisciplined imagination of immature, self-glorifying fantasies, taking liberties with facts, create an idealised fantasy childhood, with grandiose ideas which can be irrational and flimsy, constructed to redeem lost pride, substituting for the painful realities she has endured"
"At her worst, TT is cognitively suspicious, construing innocuous events as signifying malice, with a tendency to magnify tangential or minor difficulties into proof of treachery or malevolence, especially regarding fidelity or trustworthiness. She is prone to feeling personally deprecated by innocuous actions and events arising from her own underlying discontented self-image. She may exaggerate her own misery by recalling past injustices and anticipating future disappointments, seeing herself as a misunderstood victim, unappreciated and demeaned by others.
Projection dynamics however, mean that TT may be blind to her own unattractive behaviours and characteristics, whilst over alert and hypercritical of similar features in others. She actively disowns her undesirable personal traits and motives, attributing them to others, so that by means of this reversal, she can then justifiably act out her own anger, feeling vindicated."
"H's presentation suggests that he is triangulated within his parents' conflictual relationship. His angry rejection of his father serves a function for his mother within the parental separation. H's own emotional needs, including his right to have a relationship with his father, is being ignored by TT in order to serve her conflict with PA.
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. Such children can become unduly anxious, going on to develop a need to compulsively rescue those who seem weak or needy, with a host of somatising complaints themselves."
"H's responses from the Child Attachment Interview, perception of parents scale and the Bene Anthony Family Relations test were all consistent with those typically seen in alienated children, with exclusively negative messages to his father and paternal family (no outgoing or incoming positive items at all, 9 negative outgoing, 5 negative incoming, 3 outgoing negatives to his grandmother, 1 incoming negative) and almost exclusively positive incoming and outgoing items towards his mother.
This lack of ambivalence makes H's presentation more likely to be alienation than estrangement resulting from his father's behaviour. His response is extreme and excessive, a presentation not seen in children whose parents have been neglectful or abusive."
"When I told TT that H was presenting with the kind of extreme views typical of an alienated rather than abused child, and asked her to reflect on how this can be a response to high conflict when a child tries to make their environment feel safe, TT could not accept that I could have formed that view from H's own presentation.
She commented that PA had 'got to you too, like Billie', refusing to give headroom to the possibility of an environment in which she herself had, inadvertently or otherwise, been fuelling the very allegations she contended must be true, simply because H said them."
"TT feels proud and takes credit for many of H's achievements, but partly does so to display the father by contrast. She presents as distraught at the prospect of anything happening to her, lest H be left without a carer. She positions father as unreliable, neglectful, aggressive/hot tempered, a disorderly alcoholic, seemingly incapable of caring for him at all and requiring therapeutic input. However, she also spoke about father not being there for H, fearing he is suicidal and unable to cope with life because of his health. I could not find evidence of a mental health problem of this extreme nature, neither in my assessment, nor in PA's medical notes."
"There is lack of insight into any possibility that her beliefs could be self-serving or even have a psychological context, with no room for disconfirmation. TT presents with as if the consequences of a false negative (deciding there is no aggression/alcoholism, when there is) is much more dangerous than a possible false positive (deciding there is aggression and alcoholism, when there is not), ignoring the potential harm of her own actions and beliefs in colluding or co-creating these allegations and depriving H of his father, despite the Fact Finding saying they are unsubstantiated."
"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. Mother's views of the father are entrenched, and the prognosis for any shift in that view, if H remains with his mother, does not look promising."
"Unfortunately, therapeutic intervention aimed at a restoring H's relationship with his father whilst in the care of his mother is ill-advised, not only in light of the research evidence, but the failure of any previous threat of change of residence to change the course of this case or mum's stance, with the consequence that H now has no relationship with his father.
Even though there may be transient distress, particularly as H is now settled in his secondary school, with friends, this needs to be weighed against the need for removal from his mum, to protect him from further harm, in the form of the consequences of complete loss of his dad."
"H is currently prioritizing 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. Development of such rigid schemas may, among other difficulties preclude him from making good enough sense of his social and emotional world to be able to negotiate his relationships successfully as he matures."
"I am less optimistic about TT's capacity to cease hostility, even with support, as she is more deeply worried about PA and the risks she deems him to pose to H, seeing herself as an important (and sole) protective factor. Her thoughts on this are far less open to challenge, and it is therefore hard to see how TT will not continue to act to obstruct the relationship with the father, all the while believing she is doing so protectively and in H's best interests.
TT's conviction about the father's problems make continued allegations by H more likely, as a result of which, the child is now alienated from his father. She would say that H has finally seen who the father is as he has matured and professionals have not so far managed to reassure her on these concerns over the years."
"H has and is likely to continue suffering significant social harm with the current arrangements, exposed to conflict from both parents because of his mother's excessive unwarranted concerns, which have led to problems with contact. Mother is less responsive to H's emotional needs than she believes, blurring boundaries between the child's needs and her own, operating within a constricted, inflexible frame, where she is uniquely placed to love and protect H, seeing him as particularly vulnerable with his 'unsafe' father as a result of his special needs.
Her views and actions, as well as the father's unhelpful and intense attempts to convince H of 'the truth', has resulted in dysfunctional attachment strategies in H of anxious conformity, psychosomatic symptoms, triangulation within his parents' conflictual relationship and rigid schemas. A child's alienation from one of his parents, in the manner which has now finally happened to H, is associated with a higher risk of long term problems of poor mental health and relationships."
"Mother has implied that his father is unsafe, exposing H to inappropriate parental conflict, under the guise of the same protection, not distinguishing between her own emotional needs to be the only parent H needs and his real emotional needs for his father. TT was bullied as a child and as an adult, felt demeaned by H's father and family. As such, however, she has unwittingly encouraged H to see himself as a bullied victim of his father, so as to protect him. I do know that she loves H deeply and is not consciously prioritising her own needs over those of her child, so that she may find it hard to recognise the harm she is creating, and may feel offended and upset by what I am saying."
"As I have already said, H's presentation suggests that he is triangulated within his parents' conflictual relationship. H's own emotional needs, including his right to have a relationship with his father, is being sacrificed in his angry rejection of his father, which serves a loving function for his mother within the parental separation."
"H completely left his father out of his description of his family, as if he did not exist, identifying many negative experiences, minimizing, dismissing or making empty any positive experiences he had with his father in the Child Attachment Interview. He also produced exclusively negative views of his father on the Perception of Parents' Scales and Bene Anthony Family Relations Test."
"Cases like this require practitioners with considerable experience and specialised training in the area of implacable hostility and alienation, within the legal framework, with judicial oversight, with restoration of H's relationship with his father as the primary consideration, to protect him from further harm.
There are very few practitioners able to provide this kind of work, which requires residential therapy with H and his father in the family paternal home, in the first instance, over at least 4 days and 4 nights, with a 12 week follow up of therapy sessions. I have provided two possible sources."
"I have no evidence from my assessment that this mother is well placed to use any psychological work which would help change H's current perceptions or predicament. She genuinely feels that H has arrived at a place of protecting himself from problems in his father which are serious enough to warrant him keeping away. Any mmotivation to participate therefore needs to be externally driven by the Court."
"The probability of TT being a genuinely active or willing participant in a process of reuinification, where she can accept her own contribution, even inadvertent, is currently very low. The therapist will need to evaluate the extent to which she can is able to manage in practice. I hope she can because ultimately, it is not going to be helpful for H to swap in a heroes and villains scenario and he needs to have both his mum and his dad in his life."
"It is very likely now that if H remains with his mother, he will not enjoy a relationship with his father, so that a transfer of residence is, sadly, the only feasible route to re-unification at this stage."
i) the failure in her report to raise the issue of a lack of time to complete her enquiries or to write the report; or
ii) for the change in the recommendations now made.
D accepted she had solely focused on the father's role and had not addressed at all the mother's role. In the light of Dr Braier's reports, this is a startling and serious omission. When asked why she had not instructed counsel at the beginning of this hearing to request an adjournment of this final hearing, she could not give a cogent answer.
i) she sought to sidestep the question every time counsel for the father put the issue of fault to her;
ii) on each occasion whilst she said that she accepted some blame she then proceeded to give a lengthy catalogue of the alleged failings of the father and of his family; and
iii) finally, she said to the court "I do not know what answers you want from me" - to which the simple answer is I expected her to tell me the truth.
i) her denial of speaking with H about the father's email of 25th May is false. How else would H have known the contents of it? The father did not copy him in to that email;
ii) the mother's assertion that she described her concerns about the state of the father's mental health in the past tense and not as appeared in Dr Braier's report in the present tense. I am satisfied that Dr Braier would not have made such an error without acknowledging the same; and
iii) her oft repeated claim that she accepted some of the blame in the breakdown of contact was undermined by the contrary accounts which dominated her evidence that the father was entirely to blame.
i) he has lived all of his life to date with his mother;
ii) he is settled in school and has an established group of friends;
iii) he has many interests and is a member of a Taekwondo club;
iv) he has lived the majority of his life in City B in the Midlands albeit he has visited and stayed with his father in City A in the South of England;
v) he will have to accept his fathers and paternal family's home as his new home;
vi) he will have to settle into a new school part way through a new school term;
vii) he will have to make new friends; and
viii) he will have to familiarise himself with his new environment and locale in City A in the South of England.
i) H would be fully supported by his father and the paternal family;
ii) H will have the support and guidance of an independent expert in this field;
iii) it is most likely that his former close relationship with his father will be restored in very short order and;
iv) any trauma and or stress is likely to be of short duration only and will resolve when he settles into his father's care.
i) the mother has alienated H from this father;
ii) she does not support the father having a role in H's life;
iii) the absence of the father from H's life has, is and will cause H emotional and social harm;
iv) if H remained in his mother's care, the prospects of H having a meaningful relationship with his father are, at best, poor; and
v) the only means by which H can enjoy a relationship with both of his parents is to transfer residence to the father; nothing else will do in the welfare best interests of H.