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Child law

Child transferred to father in parental alienation case

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Walker Family Law
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Child transferred to father in parental alienation case – Ian Walker

We have written here previously about the emotive subject of parental alienation, where one parent alienates a child against the other parent. As we explained in that post, if the court finds that alienation has taken place then it can order that the care of the child be transferred from the ‘alienating’ parent to the ‘alienated’ parent.

A recent case has demonstrated this in action.

A father’s concernsChild transferred to father in parental alienation case

The case related to a nine year girl, referred to as ‘Lara’ by the Court of Appeal, although that is not her real name. Lara’s parents had met in 2009 and formed a relationship in 2010, living in the mother’s home before Lara was born in 2011. The parents never married, but Lara’s father has parental responsibility for her, by virtue of being named on her birth certificate.

The parents separated when Lara was approaching a year old, with the father moving out. Contact between Lara and her father initially took place for a few hours at a time, increasing over time to alternate weekends.

At the time of the separation in early 2012, the mother became an adherent of a cult called ‘Universal Medicine’. She engaged in monthly sessions with a ‘healer’ at the cult, cut gluten and dairy from her and Lara’s diet as recommended by the cult, and attended events at the organisation’s European base in Somerset, sometimes taking Lara with her.

In February 2015 the father contacted the local authority to express concerns about Lara, dating back to 2012. These included issues about Lara’s tiredness and restricted diet, inconsistency of contact, and the influence of a ‘healer/cult’ upon the mother’s idea of parenting and thinking. A child and family assessment was carried out. The social worker’s conclusion was that the mother had somewhat fixed ideas about parenting, but these did not amount to a safeguarding concern.

Later in 2015 the father applied to the court for a child arrangements order, in which he sought a shared care arrangement for Lara and a specific issue order to prevent Lara from having any further contact with Universal Medicine, which he considered to be a form of brainwashing, turning Lara away from him.

At a hearing in June 2017 the mother agreed a shared care arrangement, together with a prohibited steps order barring her from imposing Universal Medicine teachings and doctrines on Lara, and from taking Lara to events run by the organisation.


A finding of alienation

The mother failed to adhere to the order, including taking Lara to such events, and in January 2019 the father took the matter back to court, seeking an order that Lara should live with him. He cited the mother’s continued involvement in Universal Medicine and its impact on Lara, who he felt was being alienated against him.

At a hearing in November 2019 the judge accepted that alienation was taking place, in the context of the mother’s adherence to Universal Medicine. However, he refused to alter the previous order, finding that the harm arising from a move to the father’s care would outweigh all other forms of harm.


Transfer of carefather and son on beach

The father appealed, to the Court of Appeal. His appeal was allowed, and a rehearing was ordered. The Court of Appeal was concerned that there had been no sign that the mother actually wanted to distance herself and Lara from Universal Medicine, and that having found that a process of alienation had started to occur, the judge did not take effective steps to counter it.

The rehearing took place earlier this month. The judge found that the mother had not come close to achieving the sort of break with Universal Medicine identified by the Court of Appeal, and he was satisfied that, were the child to remain in her care, “the process of estrangement would continue and in the short to medium term the child’s relationship with the father would be terminated.” Accordingly, he ordered that Lara’s care should be transferred to the father.

Obviously the facts in this case were somewhat unusual. Nevertheless the case demonstrates that the courts do take parental alienation seriously, and are prepared to take steps to deal with it.

You can read the full judgment in the case here.