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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 >> A and B (Parental Alienation No.1)  EWHC 3366 (Fam) (25 November 2020)
Cite as:  EWHC 3366 (Fam)
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London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| THE FATHER
- and –
|Re A and B (Parental Alienation: No.1)
MISS C. WOOD QC (instructed by Sears Tooth) appeared on behalf of the Respondent.
Crown Copyright ©
MR JUSTICE KEEHAN:
"In particular, I was left concerned that Child B is presenting with evidence of a depressive disorder. Both children present as highly anxious in their function as a result of being exposed to the parental conflict for most of their lives."
"Child A works very hard to please her mother by fully taking part in the conflict. Child B, I think, has struggled to keep up with what his mother needs and, as a result, I think has been experienced by his mother as less helpful at times."
"Child A has a history of being overly involved in the parents' separation from very early on. In my opinion, that has had a significant impact on her emotional development. I think she is now presenting with evidence of (1) disordered attachment development and (2) increased risk of mental health problems. Child A is intellectually an able child and is socially able. However, she is pseudo mature. By that I mean she presents as if an adult. She talks about general day-to-day things in an adult-like manner and she acts as if she is equal with the adults that she is dealing with in her life. The difficulty for her, I think, has been that this strategy has not led to her needs being met. Rather, it reassured adults, particularly her parents, that she is doing fine. Thus, they placed expectations on her of coping with situations which were beyond her emotional age and ability. She is only 13. She is just entering adolescence, one of the most crucial and vulnerable times in a child's lifespan. She is carrying the responsibility of managing the parental conflict as she has done for a number of years. She also has a heightened sense of responsibility for her brother which, in my opinion, has now tipped into a need to control him in order to make sure that he also rejects his father. Child A has been allowed to take up this position within the family and is not being challenged by her mother. It has been recognised by her father but he has felt helpless to effect change for her as he has also remained locked in conflict with The Mother. It is going to be extremely important for Child A that her parents now recognise that the way they have finished their separation has caused her emotional harm."
"In my opinion, Child A is triangulated within the parental conflict. Currently, she has taken up a role whereby she is the one maintaining the conflict with The Father which allows The Mother to stand back and appear to be the reasonable adult who wants to end the conflict. The Mother would state, however, it is impossible for her to do that as the children are refusing to see their dad. Thus, she cannot do anything to effect change. Child A has had to develop a complex attachment strategy in order to survive in this environment. In my opinion, in her relationship with her mother The Mother, she is presenting with a compulsive compliant compulsive caregiving attachment theory. Children who develop this attachment pattern do so in the face of persistently unavailable care. It also develops from children who have to manage unpredictable but repeated danger. Parental conflict post-separation is one of the most dangerous environments children have to survive. They learn that it is best not to present their needs or to distress adults. At best, it may not elicit any response. At worse, it could provoke attack. Children develop the strategy of being pleasing and helpful as a means of understanding."
"In summary, Child A is being emotionally harmed by being triangulated within the parental conflict. She is an extremely vulnerable girl although she presents as if an adult, she is 13 years old. Emotionally, I think she is functioning at a much younger level because her parents have not parented her in a way to allow her to develop emotional maturity. She is socially able but not emotionally able to manage. As a result, she says things that lack credibility to prove her point. She presents a picture of her father which does not match how he presents as a dad. She is extremely vulnerable as a result of this situation."
"Child A is at risk of developing depression and anxiety as an adolescent and an adult. These experiences risk impacting on her capacity to form safe relationships. She is at high risk of developing abusive relationships as an adult and of struggling as a parent herself. Her parents need to effect significant change soon in order to mitigate against the emotional harm that has already been done to Child A and her capacity to manage in relationships."
"In terms of acute mental health, I was most concerned about Child B. Child B is a 10-year-old boy who, in my opinion, is presenting with (1) disordered attachment development and (2) depressive disorder. Like his sister, he is currently the centre of an extremely conflictual parental separation and subject to ongoing court proceedings. Child B was 2 when his parents separated. Prior to the separation, he spent 16 months away from them in the care of his maternal grandparents. When they came back from Russia and the parents split soon afterwards, I wonder if either of them had been left with feelings of guilt that perhaps it was their fault. In my opinion, Child B is also presenting with a compulsive compliant compulsive caregiving attachment strategy. At the moment, he has to reject his father because that is what is required by his sister and mother. However, I think he is really struggling with that task. In the past, Child A dealt with a lot of the issues. This time, he is expected to be more actively rejecting. Thus, I think it is having a significant impact on him emotionally."
"In summary, Child B presents as a child who has an insecure attachment relationship with both his parents. He also sees his sister as a parental figure but she also makes him anxious. Therefore, he has no one to whom he can express any feelings of loss for his dad. He sees no possibility for change in his father which is his sister's position also. He did not think that anything could happen that he could forgive his father but as we spoke about this, he became increasingly dysfluent. By the end, he was just staring at himself in the mirror. I think he had emotionally shut down. I was concerned for his mental health. I was concerned at Child B's mental health having met with him. I think there is evidence of depressive disorder. This was mainly manifested when he talked about school. He broke down completely and tears were rolling down his face. Child B told me, 'Everyone thinks I'm disgusting.' He does not feel he can tell anyone about it. He feels that people are physically moving away from him and they do not want to be close to him. I think there is a risk that he is projecting the loss of his father into school and acting it out there. Sadly, his mother is minimising of this and so he has to deal with the distress himself."
"In summary, I think he is depressed. I think there is a risk he wishes he was dead. In my opinion, Child B is really missing his father but feels hopeless and helpless that he can change. The evidence from meeting Child A last week is that the children remain highly anxious and the meeting was controlled by The Mother. In my opinion, it was not a genuine attempt on her part to help repair the situation and it will not help the children to progress on the basis that they need to make things work."
"There is also a very short window of opportunity to repair Child A's relationship with her father given her age and life stage, and, in this case, the sibling dynamic complicates matters. Child B would be more likely to settle on his own but leaving Child A with her mother would entrench her alienation such that the court might be forced to look at the possibility of interim foster care with a temporary 90 full protective separation from the mother in respect of both children."
"If, however, what we are seeing is the beginning of a genuine paradigm shift in The Mother as a result of a combination of absorption of material in Dr Butler's report, intense therapy, and the process of assessment itself, there is merit in giving mother an opportunity to put substance to her claims in practice."
"We have extended the trial phases in the hope of being able to withdraw gently. We wanted to confidently recommend a permanent 50/50 care arrangement for this family. Whilst matters are much improved with the children in a position of a more regulated relationship with their father, the dynamics remain the risks of regression back to rejection of the father are still unacceptably high so that it has not been possible to withdraw or make this firm recommendation. Extending of the trial again, however, is unlikely to give court any further information on the family dynamic nor is it likely to produce significant change in any sensible timescales so as to increase our confidence in the sustainability of the current arrangements. Our view now, after 15 months' involvement, is that ongoing proceedings are unhelpful for these children who need a decision on a more permanent arrangement to support them through the difficult teenagers. We have worked hard to support equal joint care with variable success reflecting carefully on whether any other arrangement might be more sustainable. In doing so, we noted the dynamics of this particular family; the life stage of these children; the scars of alienation in both children and their father; their lasting preference for the maternal family; the proximity of the parents' home; and our concerns around further incidents of splitting with increasingly dim prospects of resettling the children with each crisis encountered. Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to arrive at a point where we can confidently guarantee the sustainability of any child arrangement as each option contains its own set of issues for this family. We therefore respectfully set out our thinking in relation to the benefits and risk of each, as we see it, leaving the court to decide, on balance, which one is likely to be most sustainable and therefore in the children's best interests."
"Dr Butler expressed concerns about Child B's mental health last year saying that he was suffering from depressive disorder as a result of his triangulation and loss of his father, suggesting that if there is any evidence that his mental health is deteriorating, I would recommend he is pleased with his father and therapeutic support would be provided for The Father to care for him. Given the extent of splitting seen again in Child B recently, Karen [that is Ms Woodall] is very concerned that he would be unlikely to be resettle a third time in any joint care arrangement losing his relationship with his father. Child A, whilst currently looking more stable and presenting well, may be overcompensating to make things work for her mum and remains at risk. Child B may heal but should there be further occurrence of severe splitting in either child, the potential insurmountable challenge of yet another reintegration at that stage means the court may, under such conditions, need immediate consideration of a residence transfer to help the children retain their relationship with their father. Whilst this is also not guaranteed to be effective or sustainable for these children for the reasons outlined, Dr Butler raised serious child protection issues last June which have not entirely disappeared. In the context of further significant difficulty in the future, a transfer of residence may still present a better prospect of a more normal life for these children than the draconian solution of removal into foster care independently managed by the local authority to secure access to both parents."
"This incident, when analysed within the overall chronology of events leading to it, demonstrates that not only has much effort been needed so that it remained impossible to withdraw but it has taken very little to completely destabilise the relationship between Child B and his father with a high risk of repeated rejection of the father moving forward."
"It became apparent that Child B was entering into the severely split state of mind which is seen when children decide for themselves they must take control of the family system. In meeting with Dr Braier and his mother, Child B showed that he could not listen to either feeling none of the adults understood him. The breach of parental and adult authority in his life is deeply worrying at his age and demonstrates the risk that Child B may go beyond parental control should this family system become destabilised again. The fact that this happened whilst professionals with expertise in working in these scenarios were heavily involved with the family is deeply concerning. Restarting the relationship between a child and a parent after they have become alienated from is possible once and even twice. However, without our considerable input in this second eruption of Child B's rejecting behaviour, this could not have been achieved. I very much doubt it would be possible to achieve it again should there be another instance of rejection which raises safeguarding concerns. Given Child B's age, if he returns to rejecting his father as a method of coping with the dynamics around him and the impact of being alienated once, there is a risk he may not be in a place where the relationship with his father can be repaired in his minority years. We have seen manageable slippage in Child A but in such circumstances, it is likely to be much harder for Child A to get over any such slippages to sustain her own relationship with the father. The risk is of her entering into alignment with the mother. Voting with her feet and rejecting her father will be significantly raised. Children who are split can become extremely rigid in their belief that they have the right to do as they feel resisting very strongly any attempts to restore the relationship with a targeted parent. This can sometimes extend to both parents maintaining the belief that no one is listening to them, escalating resistance to all efforts to intervene. In such situations, children can move beyond parental control to the point where the risks are so high that removal into foster care may be the only viable option."
"There is a repeated theme of The Mother of inability to make decisions which are in the best interests of the children. The Mother has had to have significant input to be able to make even the simplest of decisions. Whilst this may be put down to The Mother's anxiety about wanting to get it right, there is also a sense of abdication of parental responsibility to professionals and at times to The Father. Again, one could argue this is because The Mother is anxious about being scrutinised. However, during times when Ms Woodall has stepped back and enabled Ms The Mother to take a more free rein approach, encouraging her to write emails herself and engage with The Father directly, it has become apparent how difficult The Mother finds it to make child focused decisions about what is right for the children in the range of circumstances."
"The Mother has worked hard and is no longer an active negative influence but, in many ways, her responses are not necessarily very different to what was seen in 2018. The Mother wants to do the right thing and be seen to be doing so. As such, can do this very well, taking advice in the moment from others and acting on it but we had been hoping she would have developed her own repertoire a little further. In using not only myself, Karen, or her own therapist but also Carol Edwards, she is not developing, learning, or generalising sufficiently. This is the case despite repeated attempts to get her to focus on absorbing principles rather than rules, to enable her support of the whole situation to become more natural and emotionally congruent, rather than needing to be scripted. The Mother's strategy in seeking and implementing advice as faithfully as possible to ensure she avoids errors may provide sensible and helpful in the moment responses but also results in splitting the larger support team around her to include those without a holistic view of the family dynamics. As such, The Mother unwittingly worsened the problem of inconsistency already produced by her own changing moods or priorities rather than working from core principles. Understanding The Mother's struggle here may be helped by a reminder of her psychological profile. I have never believed The Mother was consciously deceiving but it is hard for those with histrionic features like her to admit their mistakes. More preoccupied with the impression they make than their actions, they will typically selectively filter finding justifications for their own behaviour, literally forgetting what they do, not want to know, say things which are not true without actually being aware of it. That is not in the sense of awkwardness of lying or a bad conscience because they are generally sincere in the moment and believe their own accounts. They are simply unpredictable and changeable tending to repress matters which contradict their self-perception, current mood, attitudes or values, marshalling narratives to suit the moment. At their best, people with this profile are spontaneous, creative, high achievers, who are super friendly and nice inspiring others with their emotions, easily infatuated and highly engaged with new people or ideas with passion but may just as easily become bored or lose interest in previous ones so they seem inconsistent in this way too. Recall of misdeeds, mistakes, or different attitudes is no longer there in consciousness, so that people with this profile often present as earnest and offended, their lack of insight and self-justification leaving them with no sense of embarrassment, only hurt about being blamed, seen as inconsistent, or questioned at all. When accused, they may dismiss the problem with indignation by using rejection dynamics identifying examples of the accuser of engaging in the alleged abuse, if not instead then at least as much. The Mother's behaviour on the night [that is 6 October] was outstanding in getting Child B home, as was her participation in the repair in my consulting rooms, even if she omitted to tell anyone that she had failed to proactively inform The Father and Child A of Child B's distressed texts and calls to her that night before he ran out. However, having responded to the crisis, when it died down, she re-framed her narrative with several threats implicating The Father as failing to engage in sensible actions typically but not exclusively suggested by her to prevent the incident thereby implicating The Father and exonerative herself. This, together with a refusal to collaborate with any possibility that she herself had any relevant stressors nor, indeed, could have acted in any way other than perfectly in the summer lead up meant her acknowledgement of responsibility for Child B's rejection of his dad then felt somewhat hollow. One of the problems with this profile in the current family dynamic is their capacity to sense who they are talking to and adapt their narrative, sincerely say what they feel that person wants to hear. The problem is that when exposed to a different audience, they can formulate very different ideas depending on the situation. This helps to understand how The Mother is genuinely doing her best and making significant efforts when she speaks to Karen, to The Father, and to the children but manages to produce quite a different narrative as needed. She truly wants to get it right all round to please the children, The Father, and the professionals but struggles to integrate what she needs to do. She cannot please everyone or create a consistent enough narrative to suit in the way others can when they emanate from core principles of their own internal coherent compass."
(a) In relation to her move to Marylebone, she told me she did not think it was a big issue. Later in her evidence, she accepted it had been a mistake but could not give a credible explanation of why she had pursued the move even after the father had sent her an email in which he had made a perfectly reasonable and polite request for her not to move to Marylebone;
(b) Further, when attempting to explain her move to the same area of London as the father, she implied that Ms Woodall had supported her plan, when I accept that Ms Woodall most assuredly had not done so;
(c) The mother had asserted that everything had changed since the summer of 2019 and that the children had been stable. In light of the events of the last 15 months and the opinions of Dr Braier and Ms Woodall, nothing could be further from the actuality of this case; and
(d) The mother's case that the 50-50 shared care arrangements should continue because it worked flew in the face of all the other evidence presented to me and was patently not achievable.
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
(a) Dr Braier and Ms Woodall's final report had been received just four working days before this final hearing;
(b) There had been insufficient time for the mother to absorb the full content of the report come;
(c) There were issues about the context of some of Ms Woodall's opinions and conclusions which the mother wished to challenge;
(d) The mother wished to file further evidence but had not had time to do so; and
(e) As a result, the mother would not be afforded an Art. 6 compliant fair hearing.
(1) A full transfer to the father's care with only supervised or monitored contact with the mother;
(2) Shared care on an 80/20 basis in favour of the father;
(3) A 70/30 basis;
(4) A 65/35 basis; or
(5) The present shared care of 50/50.
(a) She has caused and is causing them emotional and psychological harm by alienating or splitting the children from their father; and
(b) They remain vulnerable to her changes of mood and behaviour most especially Child A.
(a) Child A and/or Child B will once again be alienated or split from their father with the consequence that it will not then be possible to repair the relationship between them; and/or
(b) The adverse consequences of their alienation from their father would render one or both of them beyond the control of either parent and/or results in the decision that one or both of them in their welfare best interests be placed in foster care.
I agree with Dr Braier that such an outcome would be a disaster for these bright and intelligent children.
(a) One or other of the children rejecting the very limited contact with their mother and voting with their feet and leaving their father's care and/or disengaging with him; and
(b) Contact with the mother taking place at such a frequency and for such a prolonged period that the mother's malign influence results in the children being once again alienated or split from their father.
(1) The children shall live with their father;
(2) For the first month of this regime, the mother shall have no contact with the children. The only proviso is that if the mother accepts my judgment and Ms Woodall considers it in the best interests of the children, there may be:
(i) A telephone call between the children and the mother supervised by Ms Woodall in the days after my judgment for the mother to reassure the children that she is well; and
(ii) If Ms Woodall considers it appropriate, a telephone call between the children and the mother over the Christmas period, supervised by Ms Woodall or, if she agrees, by Mrs Blank;
(3) After this period of one month and assuming all has gone well, the mother should have supervised contact, preferably supervised by Ms Woodall, once every three weeks for a period of four hours;
(4) After a further period of three months, the mother shall have staying contact with the children once every three weeks from a Friday evening until a Sunday evening; and
(5) The mother will have staying contact in the holidays thereafter, one week at Christmas, one week at Easter, and for two weeks on two separate occasions during the summer school holiday.
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