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Boy should be sent to live with father, High Court concludes

A 12 year-old should be sent to live with his father to restore their relationship, a High Court Judge ruled in a recently published case.

PA v TT and H concerned a couple from a Sikh background who had married in 2005 and separated in 2007. They had one son, referred to in the judgement as ‘H’. The breakdown of the marriage was acrimonious, and there had been no less than five previous sets of proceedings concerning arrangements for the boy. These included allegations of domestic abuse, which were dismissed.

Prior to the beginning of the sixth set of proceedings, H had lived with his mother in the Midlands, but enjoyed regular “good quality” contact with his father and paternal relatives on the south coast.

The visits stopped in March 2018. The pair remained in touch for the next few months but then the tone of H’s messages changed and he insisted that he no longer wished to see his father. The man believed the mother had alienated his son but she insisted that H, who is now 12, had reached the decision to end contact on his own.

The father applied in court for a “change of residence” – meaning H would come and live with him.

Around the same time, the father sent the mother an angry email about their continuing parenting disputes. Although he later admitted this had been inappropriate, H was aware of its contents, although it was not clear how he found out.

Psychologist Dr Janine Braier, an expert in the field of parental alienation, conducted a detailed analysis of the situation. She acknowledged the father’s misjudgements but concluded that he:

“…builds strong relationships between friends and family, expending effort to achieve mutual warmth, reciprocal goodwill, congeniality and good cheer… he feels particularly good about himself when he has been helpful to others…”

She added, however:

“Taking his responsibilities seriously, if progress is slowed, blocked or complicated, his high investment can precipitate intense frustration, and where criticism is directed his way, reflexive hostility rather than openness to self-evaluation may follow. That said, his recent experiences with H have led to a much greater willingness to reflect.”

Meanwhile, the mother:

“…experiences herself as a victim, badly treated by others, rising above it in a saintly manner in her mind, but not in practice. The mother constructs narratives based on her feelings, projecting her concerns and convictions out on the world, so that others’ behaviour fits her own preconceived ideas and concerns. There is difficulty shifting that perspective in light of any new evidence…Her narratives are designed to reveal herself in the best possible light at the expense of any plausible understanding of the relationships around her, to the point where fantasy and ideals may impact on her grasp on reality at times.”

She concluded that H had clearly been caught up in his parent’s conflicts:

“His angry rejection of his father serves a function for his mother within the parental separation. His own emotional needs, including his right to have a relationship with his father, is being ignored by the mother in order to serve her conflict with the father. The child is currently prioritising his mother’s needs over his own.”

H had absorbed his mother’s disdain for his father, Dr Braier said, and it was unlikely that a good relationship between father and son could be restored if H remained in his mother’s care.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Keehan accepted the psychologist’s findings entirely. He declared:

“I have come to the following clear conclusions:

i) the mother has alienated H from this father;

ii) she does not support the father having a role in H’s life;

iii) the absence of the father from H’s life has, is and will cause H emotional and social harm;

iv) if H remained in his mother’s care, the prospects of H having a meaningful relationship with his father are, at best, poor; and

v) the only means by which H can enjoy a relationship with both of his parents is to transfer residence to the father; nothing else will do in the welfare best interests of H.”

Read the full judgement here.

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