Another Tearful and Wholly-Deserving Father – The Case of ‘A’

Introduction

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 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.

The Judges

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!

The Experts

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Conclusion

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.

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PA and DV

Parental Alienation (‘PA’), Domestic Violence (‘DV’) and False Allegations

Introduction

We have been hearing a lot recently about ‘Parental Alienation’.  My aim today is to offer a brief guide as to the condition, and what we can do to combat it.  I argue that PA is nothing less than the psychological abuse of a child.

Definition

There are many definitions out there, but probably the most persuasive and accurate is this:

“Parental alienation is the process and the result of psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent, relative or others.”

More simply put, PA happens when one parent deliberately turns their child against the other parent, without justification.   The aim is to sever the child’s relationship with the other parent, and it is motivated by hatred.  The parent that carries out this form of psychological abuse of a child hates the other parent more than they love their own child.  The child will be hurt by this process, but the alienator does not care.

In the first stage, the child is rewarded if she reports unfavourably on a contact visit with the ‘target parent’.  The child will also be punished if she reports that she had a great time with the other parent.  The alienator brainwashes and coerces the child, and ‘trains’ the child to loathe or fear the target parent, in exactly the same way that Pavlov trained his dogs.  The child quickly gets the hang of this and, wanting to avoid punishments, rejects the target parent.

After a while the child rejects the other parent without any need for coaxing.  The alienator then shifts ground, hiding behind the programmed child, and will say ‘well, I try to encourage contact, but the child will not cooperate.’   Now, the alienation process is complete.

The Players

Of course, most of the time, when couples separate, the children tend to stay with the mother.  Because of this fact, there is a perception that PA is something carried out by mothers against fathers.   This is an over-simplification.  There are many times when the alienation is carried out by the father against the mother.  Parental Alienation affects both genders, and in many different ways.

How can PA affect mothers?

There are many ways you might be affected by PA.  Firstly, you might be married to a man who has children from a previous relationship.  You, as their step-mum have invested time, money and love in these relationships.  If your husband’s ex deliberately frustrates contact and makes life difficult, it’s not just your old man who’s affected.  You will miss these relationships too…

You might be a grandmother whose child is going through a messy divorce, and contact is being frustrated or denied.  Again, it’s not just your son or daughter that’s missing out.  You are not getting to see the grandchild you love.   When a child is alienated, the child rejects everything to do with the ‘target parent’, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, even the target parent’s football team!

But probably the most painful way to experience PA is directly, as the target parent.   Can you imagine the horror, the pain, the anguish of not seeing your child for weeks, or months, sometime years?

No?  The alienator can.  That’s why he’s done it.  He knows that the best way to hurt you is through your child – to take away the one thing in the world that you love more than anything else.   Alienators are invariably narcissists.

False Allegations

When the alienating parent is a man, allegations usually relate to the mother’s mental health, alcohol or drug abuse, or imagined promiscuity.  Allegations against fathers usually involve violence or sexual abuse.  Either way, false allegations are pretty much routine in PA cases.   And always devastating.

Domestic Violence

One thing that mothers will be particularly interested in is an allegation of domestic violence.  As mentioned already, false allegations of ‘DV’ are commonplace.   There are problems with this.  Firstly, false allegations hurt the claims of women who have actually been victims of DV (see below).   Secondly, it is not unknown for abusive men to claim ‘parental alienation’ when they are accused of violence. 

So, what the courts need to do is simply (?) to sort the wheat from the chaff.  If the allegations are true, the court should be prepared to make an order for non-molestation (an injunction, or restraining order).  If the allegations are false, the accuser should be punished.   Judges are, or at least should be, experts at detecting lies.   After all, that’s what a judge does all day – works out who is telling the truth, and who is lying.  These determinations can only be made after a ‘fact-finding’ hearing, so this is something that should be pursued vigorously.  In my opinion, the judge cannot decide anything until facts have been determined.  Firstly, finding facts is important in its own right, but mostly this kind of hearing gives the judge a chance to weigh up each parent and see who is telling the truth.

The reality, on the ground, is that not much tends to happen in either case.  At UKAP, we conducted a survey on this topic, and the overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that the judge just wasn’t interested in these allegations.  The reason, I argue, is simply that such allegations are made every time – judges just become ‘case-hardened’.   False allegations usually involve the target parent somehow, miraculously turning into a monster the day after the separation!  Before that, curiously, they were just a normal parent – child caring/rearing was shared in the normal way…

We can see from this that one reason courts might be slow to grant injunctions is that judges are used to false allegations.  So false allegations hurt not only the target parent and the child, but also the cause of every woman that makes true allegations of DV.

So for the sake of victims of the horrendous crime of domestic violence, we must do all we can to discourage false allegations.

Paul Massey 22-10-2019

The author is an alienated parent, and founder of www.ukap.one a website dedicated to the problem of parental alienation.

PA, DV and the Danes

I was interested to read this piece on the interweb about problems in Denmark, related to domestic violence (‘DV’) and PA, which seem, for better or worse, to be inextricably linked.  As you will see, the piece was written regarding a new book published in Denmark (and doubtless elsewhere) called “The Biggest Power Pig Wins” – a colourful title that betrays, in my estimation, a particular world view.  The author is “connected to a network of more than 200 parents – mostly mothers”.

The first thing to say is that I have not read the book.  But I don’t think that is really necessary.  All we need to know is that there are two sides to all arguments, and here we see the other side, that is, the side of the victim of DV.

I have also undertaken a bit of research into Danish law.  Obviously, it’s different to English law, but the general thrust of it takes us in more-or-less the same direction.  But there are forks in that road, and the Danish have taken one of those forks.

It seems that, upon divorce in Denmark, parents will have joint legal custody of a child or children, and that

“Sole legal custody is only awarded if it is considered to be in the best interest of the child. There is a presumption for shared physical custody meaning that the parent who asks for sole legal custody must prove that the level of conflict is so high that it is in the best interest of the child to establish sole legal custody.”

And that

“A normal visitation schedule for a child above three years is called a “9/5 arrangement”, meaning nine days out of 14 with the resident parent (and five days with the contact parent). The State Administration can also set up less or more contact, up to a “7/7 arrangement”. Holidays are usually split 50/50. It is difficult to obtain a different split even if the contact parent lives abroad and therefore has less every day or weekend contact.”

Now, that’s not perfect, perhaps.  But it’s a lot better than we have in the UK…

Despite some digging, I have not been able to confirm rumours that in Denmark PA is a crime.  If anyone can direct me to a url, that’s be great.

So, back to the book..

We are told that:

“It is assumed that a child’s failure to thrive is not caused by stressful visitation agreements but rather by the lack of cooperation between the parents. Therefore, social services regularly send divorced couples into year-long mediation processes with the purpose of improving their cooperation. Violence is reframed as a ‘disagreement’ for which the parties are given equal responsibility.

Listening to tape recordings of such meetings it becomes apparent that when a victim of violence reacts to verbal abuse during mediation, she is automatically seen as participating in the ‘conflict’. While nothing is done to stop the violations, the protective parent is coerced into ‘cooperation’ using threats that if she doesn’t, the child may be removed.”

If this is to be believed (and I have no reason yet to doubt it), it would seem that the worm has well and truly turned.   The flip side of PA victims not being listened to, and the injustices of that, is that DV victims are not listened to and are seen, falsely, as toxic parents that are trying to disrupt a child’s contact with the other parent.

It is presumably axiomatic that any parent that goes out of their way to sever or disrupt the child’s relationship with the other parent is, indeed, ‘toxic’.  It is also pretty obvious that domestic violence exists and that many women (and men, mind you) suffer as victims of this hideous crime.  But fabricating allegations of DV with the aim of estranging the other parent (usually, but not always, the father) is an equally hideous crime.

So where lies the balance?

Would you rather live in a country where false allegations cause the breakdown of a child’s relationship with one of its parents, or another country where victims of domestic violence are the ones that are marginalised (If indeed that is true)?

Perhaps the answer is going to depend on the numbers.  Which of these outcomes is more common?  I am very confident that there will be no data or that, at least, it will be hard to procure.   Which of these injustices is greater?  I’ll leave that to you, dear reader…

Judicial Cowardice

OK, so, more thinking, more theories.  Still trying to get in the head of the judge…

I think we can make a simple case for the explanation of why judges are as useless as they are.  This time, the reason is political.   The reason is cowardice.   This theory emanates from my memory of when my mother was in hospital, dying.  She had Alzheimer’s disease and had been on a slow mental decline for a number of years, culminating in mini-strokes and having to be admitted, in the end, to hospital.

I know that, if my mum had been able to express it, she would not have wanted to be a burden.  She would not have wanted a situation where she was completely dependent on others for her food, and all of her personal needs.  She would have asked, in an ideal world, to have her life terminated – to be (to use a pretty horrible word) ‘euthanised’.  But no doctor would do this.  Partly because to do so would be illegal, of course, but the issue of morality comes before the issue of law – that is, we get our laws from our morality, not the other way ‘round.  So, let us suppose for a minute that assisted suicide were legally permissible in England.  Do we think that doctors would then be killing patients right, left and centre?  I suspect not. 

The reason is this.  To carry out a mercy killing, doctors must be brave.  The doctors were not brave.  For example, towards the end when we were deciding whether to feed or not feed my mum, the doctors left the decision to the nurses.  Their excuse was that the nurses are with the patient all the time and are better placed to make this kind of decision.  This was a lie.  All that was going on was a doctor being unwilling to make the big decisions, the tough decisions.  ANY decision.  Because if one makes a positive decision, and one is wrong, one can be criticised.  If the doctor does nothing, she can blame nurses, or the natural progression of the disease.  I call this ‘slopey shoulder syndrome’. 

I use this example as an analogue for what the judges are doing in PA cases.

Judges are simply frightened (so much for ‘without fear or favour’).  Frightened of making a positive decision that might have negative consequences – I mean, how is the judge going to look if she transfers residence of the child to the father and the father then gets the kids in his car and drives off a cliff (this does happen sometimes, of course, although extremely rarely)? 

But judges should understand that a decision to do nothing is still a decision. 

And judges, when deciding to do nothing, know, or ought reasonably to know, that the child will suffer harm.  The judge knows perfectly well what is going on – that the (usually resident) parent is seeking to harm the child by depriving it of a relationship with its other parent.  But the certainty of psychological harm is somehow less of a worry than the extremely remote chance of physical harm if contact is ordered, or residence transferred.  So, the judge makes a political and cowardly decision.  It’s political because, rather than being fearless, logical or proportionate, the judge is worried about a possible leader in the Daily Mail that this judge has ordered the child to go with a ‘dangerous’ parent.  She’s worried about her reputation (and that of judges in general), not about the child’s best long-term interests (which is what the case law and the Act mandate).  So, our judges are cowardly politicians, not fearless at all.

In criminal law, it is possible to murder ‘by omission’ – i.e. by doing nothing, if (and only if) the putative murderer has a duty to the victim.  Doctors, for example, have a duty to save lives so anything they do to shorten it might amount to a criminal offence.  Equally, a parent has the same kind of duty – not to kids in general, but to their own children.  If your child is in danger, you have a legal duty to act.  And that’s because you have a moral duty to act – again, the morality comes before the law.

Now, it seems to me that a judge in a children case has the same moral duty to the child, as the doctor, or the parent.   Morally, she must take action to protect the child from harm.  But legally, there are no repercussions for the judge.  A doctor has this ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over her head all the time.  A doctor has an ethical and legal duty to act.  The judge has only the ethical duty. 

And we know that this duty is routinely ignored. How is this possible?

Because you can’t sue a judge.  You can’t prosecute a judge for putting a child in harms way.  You can’t get a judge sacked (not in practice).  You, as a parent, and we, as the State, can do nothing. 

Trying to Understand..

I am fascinated by the Nazis.  Can’t help it.  Serial killers too.  The reason is this.  I do not understand how one human being can treat another human being in this way.  Slavery falls into this category too.

I mention this because I am really trying my best to understand judges.  It seems to be as difficult as trying to understand Nazis or slave-owners.  Maybe trying to understand is just a fool’s errand.

Yes, it’s easy to say that judges are out-of-touch, unenlightened, cowardly and so on (especially as it’s true), but there is one thing I really struggle with.  If it is obvious that judges are being unjust (and you only have to read the case law or read our survey results), why do they do it?  Why is it that we leave the Court of Appeal, time after time, as just another ‘tearful and wholly-deserving’ parent (after eons of litigation)?  Why, in essence are judges just so bloody useless?  What’s in it for them?

I have offered some possible explanations here.

But another occurs.  It’s a ‘psychologistic’ point – that is, it’s about judges as human beings.  What motivates them?  Sure, it could be laziness, boredom or cowardice, and I abandon none of those arguments.  But maybe it’s something altogether more sinister.

How was slavery and the Holocaust possible?  These horrors happened (amongst other reasons) because the Nazis and the slave-owners viewed their victims as ‘other’, as ‘vermin’ as non-human.  Could it be that our judges see us in the same way?   Now, if it seems a bit much to compare judges to slavers or Nazis, consider the possibility (at least) that they see us and our kids as just more cannon-fodder to feed the ‘machine’.  Not only must we pay our taxes to keep them in their positions of power and authority, we must pay again with inflated lawyers’ fees and court costs (which we never get back, even if we win our case which, of course, is unlikely), as we beg and plead with complete strangers to spend just a little time with our own children.  And that’s just the short-term financial cost.  Sarah Squires discusses the longer-term financial costs here.  And then there’s the psychological and emotional costs to both us and our kids…

It must be, surely it can only be, that judges think they are doing the right thing in keeping one parent away from the child.  And how can that be, given that most alienated parents have done absolutely nothing wrong at all.  So, they rationalise.  And their rationalisations invariably amount to something like I was told at the beginning of my case, by District Judge Stewart at Southampton.  He said to me at the start of the case (and this is a word-for-word quote) “I might well agree with you about everything, and still do nothing”. 

Three years later I understood that what he meant was “I do agree with you about everything.  Of course.  I see and hear this all the time.  But I won’t do anything, because I never do.  So, save yourself three years of heartbreak, probably more, and a ton of cash, and just go home and accept your fate.”  

And all of this happens ‘in the best interests’ of our kids…

I wonder how many judges and social workers would commit suicide (like some of the parents we read about on these forums) if they were deprived of their children for weeks, months, years, or for ever?  If I am right, the answer is probably none.  After all, they never see their kids anyway – they’re at boarding school – a great place to learn emotional numbness, and deliver the next crop of robo-judges.  And so it goes on…

The Life of a Family Court Judge

I spend a lot of time at UKAP.one criticising judges with, I am convinced, good reason.  But principles of equity and empathy require us to try to see things from the point of view of the learned judge…

I do not know any family court judges personally, so I am going to have to guess at what their lives must be like.  Then one might have a better chance of understanding how they make their decisions.

Let us start by thinking about the life of a judge in the Queens Bench Division (‘QBD’). 

The courts have these ‘Divisions’ – Queens Bench, Family Division, Criminal Division and ‘Chancery’.  Family and Criminal are self-explanatory.  Chancery deals with all the esoteric stuff like Court of Protection cases.  QBD deals with all the stuff that’s left over – personal injury cases, breach of contract, defamation and so on.  So, if you’re a QBD judge, your life is extremely exciting I’m sure –  a different kind of case every day.  You may think of judges in other divisions as specialists and QBD judges as ‘GPs’.  Or you may think that QBD judges are better judges as they have to keep abreast of all kinds of law.   It is very difficult to stay up-to-date even if you specialise in one area, so your plate must be really full if you have to keep abreast of developments in multiple areas of law.

But the Family Court judge specialises.  Logically, this ought to mean that she is a better judge.  After all, she has to keep up-to-date with only one area of law.  Further, there are only two main things to deal with – cash and kids.

Presumably it is important to deal equitably with both types of case.  That’s why ‘cash cases’ start from a presumption that each party gets half (White vs White).  But the same rationale does not, demonstrably, apply to child cases…

So, back to the life of a Family Court Judge.  What must it be like to adjudicate on child cases?

The simple answer is:  BORING!

The life of a Family Court Judge is going to be the same kind of life as the factory worker putting cherries on Bakewell tarts, or strangling chickens on a production line.  Unlike the lucky old QBD judge, the Family Judge does the same thing every day.

Cash vs Kids

Pretty much all cash cases will involve hubby saying ‘I built the company up from nothing – it’s my hard work that got us here – that’s why we’re loaded’.  And the wife replying, ‘that’s true, but who do you think has been bringing up the kids whilst you did all this hard work?  I want half – our overall contributions have been, broadly, equal.’  And the law says ‘well, following White (above) that’s true – I have to start by assuming a 50-50 split – either side can lobby for more than 50%, but that’s where I start – I’m going to need a good reason to stray from this presumption.’  Sounds reasonable.

And pretty much all child cases will involve the wife saying ‘You never saw the kids, you were busy working all the time.  I get the kids!’ and the husband replying ‘that’s true, but what facilitated our lifestyle – how was it that we were able to give our kids the great life they’ve had? My hard work!  Broadly, our overall contributions have been equal – I want half!  And, for exactly the same reasons, he should get half.  But he doesn’t.

The courts seem to be suffering from ‘selective logic’.

Sorry, strayed off the point a bit there…back to the judge’s life.

Any lawyer (or Litigant in Person) will tell you that judges are short-tempered and impatient.  Judges have usually made up their mind long before any lawyer gets on his hind legs.  But is that surprising?  The poor old Family Court Judge hears the same arguments every day, over and over again.  Wife denying contact?  Heard it!   Boring!  Husband hiding his pension?  Woah, that’s a new one!  See what I mean?  A family court case is just another chicken that needs strangling, just another cherry on the Bakewell tart.

As if all that wasn’t depressing enough, the poor old judge has to listen to family lawyers droning on and on, making the same point (in different ways, if you’re lucky) over and over again.  The same arguments she heard in the previous case, and the one before that.  The same arguments she is going to hear tomorrow, and for the rest of her God-forsaken life!

Ladies and Gentlemen – some sympathy please!

The Winds of Change?

Are we getting somewhere?  Are the times a changin’?

I was much-chuffed to read the judgement in Re L 2019.  My feeling is that we are starting to see some judicial enlightenment on this subject. 

In this case, the mother was found not to have alienated the child from the father.  Nevertheless, the child was ordered to live with the father, and the mother appealed.  The appeal was dismissed.

I think this case does support my argument that we should not use the term ‘Parental Alienation’. The original trial judge found that the mother displayed various unhelpful behaviours, but that these fell short of being describable as ‘Parental Alienation’ or ‘Implacable hostility’.

This is interesting. The mother alleged sexual impropriety by the father. That was determined by the judge “to a very high standard of proof that there has been no sexual or physical abuse by L’s father of his son.”

But no PA..?

The judge had ‘grave concerns’ about the possibility of the mother undermining the child’s relationship with its father, but adjourned the case to find out more…A Guardian was appointed for the child. So it was left hanging…The judge acknowledged that everything might be ok (pretty obviously yet another victory for hope over experience), but that it was quite possible that the matter would return to court. The Guardian (CAFCASS-appointed) concluded that the child should live with its mother – for the sake of ‘stability’. But the report concluded:

“…I have confirmed in this report that L is safe in the care of (father). (Mother and grandmother) must accept this. They must also accept that they have created a situation where L returns to their care and shares aspects of his spending time that are not necessarily true and they facilitate a manipulation of or put words into L’s mouth. However, if (mother) cannot accept this at the next hearing then I would be inclined to consider more greatly that a change of residence is necessary.”

Six months later yet another CAFCASS officer records that matters had now worsened for L considerably so that:

“L described his mother entirely positively and his father entirely negatively. L’s responses to his father during supervised contact appear to show little concern for his feelings and he required no prompting to say that he wanted no contact with his father.”

Still no PA…

Another CAFCASS officer reported:

“I observed L and his father to have a highly positive, close and fun relationship with one another. It was entirely obvious once L was able to relax and have fun that he feels comfortable in the presence of his father and he presented as a very happy, excited and joyous child. I found there to be no concerns with the quality of their relationship or with the care and attention the father provided L.”

Still no PA…!

The judge went on to hold that the mother contributed to the situation so that L was “not allowed the emotional space to express positive feelings about his father and, in contrast, received emotional reward for expressing negative views.”

Still not PA?!

Dad was due to take child on holiday, but the mother failed to provide the child’s passport at the airport. The evidence was that she had had it with her at the airport..The police were called and the passport made available.

Still no PA…

and the judge, as if shoring up his earlier observation said, of the behaviour of the mother (and particularly the maternal grandmother)

“If I look to the future, I am afraid I see more of the past. “

The judge concluded that, despite short-term problems that may arise, the child should live with his father.

“The Guardian had undertaken some work with L and, as a result of her assessment, she held back from asking him the central question [pertaining to ascertainable wishes, not merely expressed wishes] because she considered that to do so might cause him harm. ” Wow. Good old CAFCASS…

The mother’s appeal (against the Transfer of Residence Order) was dismissed.

So, this seems like a good decision, and it is. But – if all of the matters listed above do NOT amount to PA, we are left wondering, ‘well, what does?’

The next question we should ask ourselves, is ‘why does it matter?’. Who cares if any particular behaviours amount to PA? The point is that the judge’s analysis of the situation is that the mother has turned the child against the father and cannot be relied on to facilitate contact. Call that PA if you like. Call it ‘Bob’. Who cares – we get to the right result.

But clearly judges simply do not like this label. Judges don’t like anything with an ‘ism’ on the end – they hate ‘syndromes’. They hate psycho-babble. Many will still look askance at illnesses like PTSD, Repetitive Strain Injury, Munchausen’s by proxy and so on. So – just be careful how you frame your argument. Do not ‘label’.

Well, let’s leave the judges to their petty pedantry. It really doesn’t matter. Let’s just understand that (pre-judicial enlightenment) using the label PA will hurt your case – simple as that.

And, as long as we can avoid that, maybe we are seeing the tide turning…? This is a very good decision from the most senior family judge, who has promised to improve things. See here his address to Families Need Fathers.

Making PA a Crime

You will see elsewhere that I advocate making PA a criminal offence, as well as a distinct tort.  Well, I have found a lawyer that ‘gets it’ – and these are rare.  The lawyer is June Venters QC, and her article is here.

I have to say that it is refreshing to find a lawyer that seems to understand this area of law.

Here is the case to which she was referring.  What I am not clear about is what Order HH Judge Bellamy actually made.  Perhaps I am missing something?

Fighting the ‘Escalator’ effect

Opinion

I was reading today some comments in the Guardian from Lord Justice McFarlane, the new President of the Family Division.  He says that trying to keep up with the demands on the Family Court system is like trying to run up a ‘down’ escalator.  That is certainly true.  Recent figures from the Ministry of Justice show that demand has increased (this is due mainly to a rise in domestic violence cases – this rise followed a landmark ruling in the Court of Appeal to the effect that a victim of DV can procure Legal Aid without evidence).  Be that as it may, the bottom line is that there is pressure on the system.

Fortunately there is a simple solution.   And it’s not to bring back Legal Aid (the same MoJ report shows that cases where the parties represent themselves get resolved quicker than when parties are represented by lawyers).

But how about this:  If judges did their jobs properly, many court applications would be unnecessary.  In contact and ‘change of residence’ applications, the courts tolerate repeated infractions from litigants – judges do nothing when their Orders are ignored or when recalcitrant APs again fail to show up for hearings.  Cases are adjourned.  There are endless ‘reviews’, and a lot of ‘hoping’ from the judges.  If judges were robust (like Mrs Justice Parker and HHJ Gordon-Saker, HHJ Lochrane and a few others) a clear message would be sent – ‘The Courts will not tolerate contempts of court, like lying, disobedience, false allegations, and ignoring court orders.’

Then, parents denied contact would get contact and they wouldn’t have to keep bouncing back to court to try to enforce contact.  Court time would be halved, or better.

My message to the learned Judge is simple – ‘It’s the fault of you and your Brethren – sort it out!’

The Problem with Parental Alienation

The Problem with Parental Alienation

As an alienated parent, I think about PA a lot.   The thing I find hardest to understand is this:

How come I get it, and can explain it to anyone in 5 minutes, yet judges and CAFCASS workers don’t get it?   Courts sometimes take ten years to work this stuff out, if they work it out at all.  After a lot of contemplation, I think I have finally found the answer. 

It’s not that they don’t get it.  It’s not that they can’t get it.  It’s that they WON’T get it.  They REFUSE to get it, because it shakes their world view.  THEY ARE AFRAID.   I think the penny finally dropped with me when I read the results of our survey, when one respondent said that he got a report from an expert – he said:

“Amazing report that was dead on accurate: took 19 hours of interviewing and 8 psychometric tests of both parents, child and grandparents on each side. Diagnosis V995.51 (child abuse) and v61.29. Alienator showed in test to get MAXIMUM score on narcissism test. 220 page report from the psychiatrist and….Judge said PA was an American thing and the report was waffle!”

It reminded me of an example quoted by Dr Ludwig Lowenstein, where he tells of a case where he was involved as an expert.  This was ‘back in the day’ when each side instructed their own expert.  He was the expert for one side (it doesn’t matter which) and there was an expert for the other side.  BOTH experts agreed that one parent was alienating the child from the other parent.  But the judge still left the child with that parent…

Temporal Relativism

You know, I heard Judge Stephen Wildblood talking on FNF (Families Need Fathers) about this last year.  He made the observation that, when he started out as a lawyer 37 years ago, the prevailing view was that you never, as a judge, ordered that a child live with a same-sex couple unless there was literally no alternative.   He asks how we will look, in 37 years’ time, at the way we are dealing with PA cases now.

Alan Turing is often called the father of modern computing. He was a brilliant mathematician and logician. He developed the idea of the modern computer and artificial intelligence. During the Second World War he worked for the government breaking the enemy’s codes and Churchill said he shortened the war by two years.  He was also a homosexual.  In 1952 he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ and chemically castrated.  Two years later he committed suicide.

There was a time when, if a man criticised his friend for owning slaves, that he would be thought a fool, and would be derided for it.  There was a time when a person would be thought a fool to argue in favour of universal suffrage.

I could go on, but you get the point.  Now, homosexuality, universal suffrage, same-sex marriage, and the abhorrence of owning slaves are all “mainstream”. 

There will come a time when future generations will be astounded that we treated alienated parents as we do, and that we allowed our children to suffer at the hands of narcissistic-toxic abusers.

At UKAP, our job is to hurry that process along.  Let’s not wait 37 years – PLEASE!

How?  EDUCATION, education, education!  Judges and CAFCASS need to be educated, and become enlightened, exactly as society needed to be enlightened about slavery, homosexuality and universal suffrage.

Parental Alienation is WRONG.