Case histories - Father's access to child

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Case histories - Father's access to child

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The recent case of ‘S’ will make depressing reading for many fathers who are striving to have contact with their children.

The background to the case is that S, aged 12, had been the subject of court proceedings almost continuously since 1999.

Contact with the father broke down in 2006. In January 2010, a Judge transferred the residence of S to the father. In March 2010, a Judge ordered that the High Court Tipstaff be engaged to implement the Order. This was then appealed by S, the child (by this time represented by a solicitor and guardian ad litem). The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and substituted an Order that S be made subject of a 4 week Interim Care Order (ICO) with a move to foster care and contact to the father was to be established with the aim of transferring residence within 4 weeks.

Following the move to foster care, the local authority and guardian facilitated 5 sessions of contact to the father. At these sessions S would sit with his head in his lap and fingers in his ears. The guardian became very concerned as to S’s mental state and believed that he should not remain in foster care. The father consented to S returning home to the mother under an Interim Care Order.

Attempts to implement the Residence Order continued with S at home. He still refused to engage in contact. Therapists from the Centre for Separated Families undertook intensive therapy with S and the family. She recommended further therapy and that father abandon efforts to transfer residence. The other expert in the case, Dr Weir, disagreed stating that therapy and “stepping stone” approaches are of little use in cases of alienation and may make matters worse.

S was involved with CAMHS who considered him clinically distressed by the contact/residence situation.

In July 2010, the father abandoned his attempts to enforce the residence order. By consent it was ordered that there should be a residence order to the mother, a supervision order to the local authority, indirect contact by the provision of school reports and photographs and a Section 91(14) Children Act 1989 Order preventing further applications without leave for the Court by either parent until S reached 16.

Reflecting on the case, His Honour Judge Bellamy noted that:-

  1. The concept of alienation is a feature of some high conflict parental disputes may today be regarded as mainstream.
  2. There is no professional or expert consensus as to the approach the court should take with an alienated child. The solutions tried in this case had failed. The case demonstrated that there could be no “one size fits all” solution.
  3. Alienation will only be a feature in a small number of cases and may need the experience of the care professionals. In cases involving an alienated child, it is “essential that the court has the benefit of professional evidence from an expert whose has personal experience of working with alienated children”.

Summary prepared by Beverley Watkins, September 2010