Today I am looking at yet another parental alienation case that’s gone badly wrong. I will be analysing this and attempting to attribute blame – because, by God, some blame needs attributing. If this case doesn’t get you angry and sad in equal measure…
The case is called ‘A’, and can be found here – all of these cases are anonymised. This is ostensibly to protect the children – in most cases, though, it is to protect negligent professionals – and shortly you will see why I have this opinion.
The facts of the case do not really matter – they follow the standard ‘template’. Mother bad-mouths and alienates father (sometimes of course it’s the other way ‘round). She fails to encourage contact – in fact goes out of her way to do frustrate contact. Court orders are ignored. In the end, following all the judicial delays (and who else can be to blame?) the kids are so badly alienated that they refuse to move to their dad’s home, as the judge had ordered two years earlier, and, well – it’s just too late, isn’t it? Dad leaves the court as a yet another ‘tearful and wholly-deserving father’.
How many times have we seen this? How many more times do we need to see it?
What is also clear is that all of the ‘standard’ failures apply – an incompetent judiciary, a useless ‘expert’ and woolly-headed social workers.
What is unusual, though, is that the judgement was published, that the judge apologised to the father, and that the judge recognised all of the failings of all of the parties. How refreshing! A judge that is open and honest, not mealy-mouthed and self-justifying. I confess that I had seen Wildblood in his address to Families Need Fathers and thought – ‘yeah, right, let’s see, shall we?’ – it turns out that my cynicism may have been misplaced – it looks like His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood may be ‘on-the-level’ after all. Wildblood is one of the good guys. There are others too, like Mrs Justice Parker, and judges Lochrane, Keehan and Gordon-Saker, and maybe one or two others. But they are exceptions.
Judge Wildblood became involved in the case two years earlier, in 2017, when he had ordered that the residence of the children be transferred to the father. Prior to that he was not involved. We do not know who was. Maybe it was one hopeless judge, maybe several. But what is clear is that these judges were, indeed, hopeless. How do we know? Well, this is what Wildblood says (I have edited these slightly for the sake of conciseness):
i) There was a failure to identify, at an early stage, the key issue in this case – the alienation of the children from their father by the mother. By the time that it was identified, the damage had been done.
ii) Overall there has been significant delay within these proceedings.
iii) At the early stage of the private law proceedings the case was adjourned repeatedly for further short reviews. I have counted that there were eight orders for review hearings in the first two years of the private law proceedings alone…
iv) At no point prior to my involvement in 2017 was there a full hearing on evidence to determine what was going on in this family…
v) The use of indirect contact in a case where there is parental alienation has obvious limitations, as this case demonstrates…
vi) These proceedings have seen a vast number of professionals. I have counted 10 and I am sure that I have omitted some…
vii) A particular difficulty in this case has been the absence, at times, of collaborative working by professionals. A particular example of that occurred when an attempt was made to move the children to the father’s care. The professionals involved with the court process and the schools had not had sufficient dialogue before that move was attempted and now have very strong and opposing opinions about what occurred and the merits of moving the children from the mother. Pre-planning for the move was inadequate, in my opinion. If professional people show their disagreements, as happened here on the day of transfer, it undermines the process and allows cherry-picking by family members of what they want to hear.
viii) Early intervention is essential in a case such as this, in my opinion. It did not occur in this case. It took years (probably five) to identify the extent of the emotional and psychological issues of the mother. By that stage it was too late for there to be any effective psychotherapeutic or other intervention in relation to her, the children’s views having already become so entrenched.
ix) There is an obvious difficulty about how to approach the expressed wishes and feelings of children who are living in an alienating environment such as this. If children who have been alienated are asked whether they wish to have a relationship with the non-resident parent there is a likelihood that the alienation they have experienced will lead them to say ‘no.’ Therefore, in this type of case, the approach to the wishes and feelings of children has had to be approached with considerable care and professionalism. To respond simply on the basis of what children say in this type of situation is manifestly superficial and naive. The children in this case have been expressing wishes that they should not see their father for many years now…
14. I now need to say some words about the arrangements that were made for the children to move from the care of their mother to their father. About two years ago I heard three days of evidence and argument following which I gave a full written judgement. By my order I directed that the children should live with their father for just over seven weeks on the basis that they would not see their mother during that period. In my opinion, the handover went badly wrong; the children were extremely distressed and resistant to the attempts to place them with the father. The schools became very concerned about the level of distress that the children were showing, and the police became involved. Within a short period of time after the children started to live with their father, they ran away from their father several times, refused to eat and exhibited extreme distress. So extreme did matters become that, after further attempts at keeping the children with the father, they returned to their mother less than a month after the hearing. They have remained there since with the father having no more contact.
Well, let’s take it step-by-step.
(i) there was a failure to identify what was going on. That is the fault of the previous judges. Judges see this kind of case all day, every day. They must be sick to death of them. You do not need to be any kind of expert to identify when one party is obstructing contact. How many times do judges need to hear of kids being ‘sick’ at contact time, not being at the mother’s house, or of court orders being ignored, before they ‘get it’. And, although one does not need to be an expert, the fact is that judges are. It’s not that they don’t get it, actually. It’s that when they do, they take no meaningful action.
(ii/iii) Secondly, there has been significant delay. Well, the Children Act says, in terms, that delay is inimical to justice, and that’s just common sense, surely. But judges delay and delay, ordering review after review, expert’s reports (completely unnecessary in my view – as Mrs Justice Parker has pointed out, experts can usurp the role of the judge, and I respectfully agree), and investigations that are wholly or substantially redundant.
(iv) No evidentiary hearing had taken place (!) In PA cases it is axiomatic that one of the parties is lying. A so-called fact-finding hearing is needed in order to determine who the liar is. Again, pretty obvious – except to some judges.
(v) Indirect contact is a waste of time – as a previous case puts it “you can’t hug Skype”
(vi) There were at least 10 professionals – the judge lost count! The use of professionals is, in my view, a massive waste of time anyway, but ten? Tell me, folks, do we think that it’s any surprise that all concerned get ‘expert’s report fatigue’? And how much are we surprised that this approach is one of the main factors in causing delay. The judge should be controlling all this.
(vii) There was an unhelpful lack of cooperation between experts. Well, to start with, let’s have fewer of them! That might help.
(viii) It took FIVE YEARS for the court to identify what the mother was doing! Wow! It would take any thinking, caring individual with just one or two brain cells about five seconds flat. Why can’t judges do this?
(ix) ‘Wishes and feelings’ reports are a waste of time in a PA case because the child is simply repeating the indoctrination of the alienator. Durr…
(x) The move from mother’s house to father’s was hopelessly mismanaged. The children were resistant. What they needed was kindly, but firm, handling. What they got, as I see it, was negligent management of the process – I am fairly confident that this was the fault of at least one of the experts, plus, I suspect teachers and social workers that do not understand or accept the dynamic.
All of the above matters are the fault of the judges. Yes, social workers, teachers and experts can be pretty useless, but it is for the judge to oversee. Contact must not be ‘encouraged’, wished for or hoped for. It must be enforced, as must changes of residence. I am reminded of the words of Dr Kirk Weir on this, where he says:
Finally we try to observe the child with each parent. It is this last stage of the assessment which is often not completed due to the high level of resistance expressed by the resident parent and/or child to having any form of contact with the non resident parent. Initially I was so concerned by the levels of distress emanating from children and the extreme parental conflict to which they were exposed, that I did not insist that a contact visit should take place. That was a mistake.
And these words from Mrs Justice Parker (in re H 2014) are apposite:
The social worker, JW, who is warm, caring and committed, urges me to leave the children living with the mother because that is what they say they want. Until I enforced [my emphasis] contact she was also saying that there should be no contact, because that is what the boys say they want. The proof of that pudding has been very much in the eating, on present showing. 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. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of these boys have been demonstrated by the evidence that they are more than happy to be with their father.
(Mrs Justice Parkers words here are also very telling on the issue of ‘wishes and feelings’ and on Social Workers generally).
The point is simply that judges must be robust. None of the pre-Wildblood judges in this case could be so described.
A Word on Anonymisation
Having described HH Judge Wildblood as ‘one of the good guys’, I am reluctant to make this point, but it fascinates me that some identities are hidden, whilst others are not. For example, in all other anonymised cases, the lawyers are named. In all other anonymised cases the judges are named. Not here – perhaps the learned judge felt he should protect his colleagues and brethren – not surprising, given the shameful (but pretty typical) way this case was handled.
And yet, the experts are named. The Guardian is named. Perhaps HHJ Wildblood was less bothered about protecting them. Or perhaps it would not have been possible to identify the children from the experts’ names, but, as soon as you mention a judge’s name or that of a lawyer, well, the gaff’s up, right? That doesn’t seem likely.
Now, to be fair to Wildblood, he has been immensely brave in publicising this judgement in the first place, and making the open criticisms of the system that he has made. Judges generally are cowards – that is UKAP’s main theme. Not Stevie W. It takes tremendous moral courage to stick one’s head above the parapet in this way. It’s probably a bit ungrateful, and expecting a bit much to ask him to name and shame as well!
We do not know the identities of most of the experts. What we do know is that Dr Mark Berelowitz is named, and Karen Woodall. Also, the Guardian is described by the judge as an ‘expert’, a claim to which I would not, for one, subscribe. Another psychiatrist, Dr Blagg is mentioned, but not much is said about him.
But one of these experts stands out – Karen Woodall, because, interestingly, she was represented by a lawyer…Make what you will of that. Well, let me offer some suggestions…
Ms Woodall works as a reunification counsellor. She is not a psychiatrist or psychologist. She is not a doctor. I believe (though I have no data) that Ms Woodall has been successful in reuniting parents and their children, and I have been told that she has been able to ‘flip’ children in 20 minutes. This means that she can take (or has taken) an alienated child and, within 20 minutes, opened the child’s eyes and made that child see the target parent once more in a favourable light. And so, the families get reunited. Judge Wildblood says this:
In written advice to the court two years ago Ms Woodall had said this: ‘I have absolutely no doubt, based my extensive experience working with the children should these children be moved to live father, they would emerge from the alienated state of mind within a matter of minutes.’ I did not accept [that] view at the hearing when I considered it. Today Ms Woodall acknowledged that she was being over-confident when expressing that opinion.
Yes, well that’s not completely surprising. And it’s not the first time. In re S (2010) Ms Woodall again gave evidence that the therapy she was proposing would be successful. Dr Kirk Weir was also involved in this case. He thought it would be a waste of time. It was. Ms Woodall had to accept that any improvement there might have been had been ‘tiny’.
So, it seems that Ms Woodall is naïve. Possibly.
Next, we have to think about this: Judge Wildblood goes out of his way to address the issue of why the attempt to change the residence of the children (pursuant to his judgement two years earlier) had been such a farce. As he says, an analysis of this issue makes no difference to the final outcome. So, why did he do it? He says:
I have been asked to comment on the arrangements that were made to transfer residence to the father. In particular, I have been asked to consider the work of Ms Woodall who led the arrangements for the transfer to the father and also offered him professional guidance when the children first moved to him.
Who asked him? It was surely the father. And why was he asked? Obviously because the father was not happy about the way the attempted transfer was handled. And why does HHJ Wildblood not want to go into the matter in detail? Because
Any such hearing would be extremely expensive and could not be placed into my lists now until the end of March 2020. The experts would have to give evidence and Ms Woodall would almost undoubtedly have to be represented (as she was before me today).
Why would Ms Woodall have had to have been represented? Obviously because she was being criticised. Why else would she need a lawyer of her own? Why did the Guardian not have a lawyer? Or any of the teachers, experts or others involved in the ‘handover’ or, indeed, the rest of the case? Probably because none of those people were being criticised. And why did Judge Wildblood include these observations about Ms Woodall at all? After all, he names her. He was critical of the other judges involved, but didn’t name them…So, he was able, demonstrably, to name some parties, but not others. To address some issues, but not others.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that HHJ Wildblood felt that these complaints ought to be ‘on the record’ – out in the open. Maybe he thought that the public ought to be aware of certain problems before they made decisions about instructing experts. Maybe he was just trying to deflect the blame from judges. But the latter conclusion seems unlikely. After all, he was pretty scathing about those judges, albeit not mentioning them by name.
There is another, less benign, conclusion we might draw about Ms Woodall.
Essentially, there are two kinds of alienation. The first type (let’s call it ‘hard’ alienation) is where the alienator is a hateful, vindictive narcissist who goes out of his or her way to deliberately sever the bond of love that the child has with the other parent. Here, the alienator is pathological. He/she has a Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or some kind of ‘cluster B’ pathology. This is the case with the mother in re A (this case). These alienators do not and cannot respond to ‘therapy’.
Then, there is so-called ‘soft’ alienation or ‘hybrid’ alienation. In this case, the alienator is not necessarily hateful or spiteful, but just unthinking, idiotic. Once a therapist can explain to them the error of their ways, they do respond, and all is well. The child can be ‘flipped’. This is Ms Woodall’s wheelhouse. If she has been successful with reunification (and I have no reason to doubt this), it will have been with ‘non-hard’ cases – ‘soft’ cases – or perhaps the opposite of ‘hard’ is not ‘soft’ but ‘easy’.
As an aside, soft cases can ‘morph’ into hard cases over time – particularly if not tackled early and robustly, as here.
As I see it, we are left with the following possibilities:
- Because Ms Woodall is not a doctor, she is unable to differentiate between hard and soft alienation. So, she imagines that the therapy that works with a ‘soft’ alienator will work with a ‘hard’ alienator. If so, she is naïve. She is also unqualified to deal with hard cases. They are simply beyond her.
- She recommends that she does her therapy in all cases. It’s very expensive.
Let’s hear some more from Judge Wildblood:
In her evidence at the final hearing Ms Woodall stated that she thought that the children had a ‘strong but suppressed attachment’ to their father which, when re-awakened, would lead to a successful transfer. Dr Blagg and the Guardian gave evidence to the contrary, saying that the passage of time and the reaction of the children to their father demonstrated that their attachment to him was weak. At the hearing when they gave evidence I accepted the opinions of Dr Blagg and the Guardian. I consider events have shown Dr Blagg and the guardian to be right – the fragility of the children’s attachment to their father has been demonstrated very plainly. Ms Woodall retains her opinion and, I have to recognise, this is an issue of differing professional opinions and case dependent
I am afraid that the learned judge is wrong. This is not a difference of professional opinion. Dr Blagg is a doctor, a professional. Ms Woodall is a therapist. The reason that Ms Woodall got this case so badly wrong, is precisely because she is not a doctor. She is not a diagnostician. She is simply not qualified to comment on children having “a strong but suppressed attachment”. She is not qualified to diagnose cluster B parents. She should never have been used as an ‘expert’, simply because she is not one. Perhaps she is an expert ‘reunification specialist’ (subject to evidence), but she is not an expert diagnostician. Now, she may argue that, paper qualifications aside, she has much experience in this field. But she is supervised. Judge W again:
In making the above comments I do wish to record that Ms Woodall was a court appointed expert in this case and, although she may not be registered with a specific professional body and does not practise in an area that is subject to statutory regulation (as I understand it), she does have supervision from a highly respected consultant child psychiatrist.
That supervisor, indeed her mentor, is Dr Hamish Cameron. If the court wants an expert, he’s the man.
A Word on Justice
Here, as in many cases (as many of us alienated parents can attest) the alienator’s actions have caused the target parent to spend thousands of pounds in lawyers’ fees and court fees (let’s ignore the part about ripping out the father’s soul). She ignored orders, refused to cooperate, frustrated contact and besmirched the name of a good man simply out of spite. Simply to get him out of the lives of his kids.
So, you would think that the punishment for these crimes would be mighty indeed.
But there is no mention of anything. Was she ever, during the entire case, ordered to pay any of the husband’s legal costs? Was she ever imprisoned for contempt (lying on oath or ignoring court Orders)? Did she have to do community service? Did any of the judges ever fine her for anything? Judges can do all this.
I’m pretty confident however that this disgusting child abuser (for that is what this is folks) got a completely free ride.
Yet another travesty. A litany of disasters. And a whole host of guilty parties. The judges, the lawyers, the experts.
What else is new?
Well, what else is new, is this: For the first time, we have a judge who is honest, brave, outspoken. We do not have justice, but at least we know why. And as Nietzsche put it
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”
So, our message to Judge Wildblood is simply this – thank you.