On 29 April 2020 the Court of Appeal gave judgment on in the case of Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult: Transfer of Primary Care)  EWHC 1940
This case highlights the Courts approach to parental alienation and the orders they can make where a parent does not show they have made any meaningful changes to address this issue.
The issues in this case were centred around the Mother’s involvement with a cult called Universal Medicine and the child’s exposure to the same. This cult was found to a “socially harmful cult” and the leader Serge Behanyon to be a “sexually predatory charlatan” by the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 2018.
During these proceedings, both parents were seen to be able to meet the needs of the child however the Independent Social Worker instructed on the case to represent the child’s best interests noted that Mothers commitment to Universal Medicine interferes with her ability to meet the child’s needs in all aspects of her care.
The Court on this occasion had the job of balancing the risk of harm to the child from exposure to Universal Medicine and the harm she would suffer as a result of moving to the full-time care of her Father with restrictions on contact with the Mother.
The Mother in her evidence insisted that she would renounce Universal Medicine, speak to a therapist and consult a dietician in respect of the child (as certain views the child held indicated some adherence to the view of the cult) in order to retain the care of the child. The Judge on this occasion found the Mother to be sincere and therefore could be reasonably expected to give appropriate undertakings to protect the child by modifying, if not completely changing her thinking about Universal Medicine and their leader.
Court of Appeal
The Father appealed this decision and won his appeal at the Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal decided that it was unlikely that the Mother would be able to detach herself from the cult, which she had been heavily involved with for over 8 years without significant therapeutic support and a true commitment to do so. Neither of these conditions were met at the time of Judgement and there was in the CoA’s view no reasonable basis on which the judge could have expected them to be met in the foreseeable future.
During the proceedings, the Father and child’s relationship became increasingly difficult. The Court’s response to this was to re-instruct the ISW to advise the parents. The orders did not address the issue of repairing the relationship between the Father and child.
When the Mother was asked how she sought to reverse the harm done to the child and to address the beliefs that had caused the child to become alienated from the Father, the mother noted that she had done nothing and wanted advice on how to approach this. The Mother instead suggested that the deterioration in the child’s relationship with the Father was as a result of the child seeing fear in her eyes one day when she returned from Court, Father’s parenting style and the father’s unwillingness to listen to what the Child wanted.
The Court of Appeal identified that leaving the child in a situation where her alienation from her Father would continue as a consequence of Mother’s adherence to Universal Medicine would eventually lead to a termination of their relationship altogether.
The Court of Appeal decided that the child should live with her father and spend such time with her mother as the father may agree in consultation with Independent Social Worker involved in the case. The Court ordered no direct or indirect contact during the extended summer break other than to reassure the child and mother. The Court hoped that following this, some form of supervised time with the mother.
The Court of Appeal in their Judgement noted that an order which transfers the primary care of a child and restricts their relationship, with the other parent should only be made where it is necessary and proportionate. Whilst a significant order, a transfer of primary care is not limited to cases of last resort. Such an order will be appropriate where the assessment of the paramount welfare of the child justifies such an order.
It is clear from this case that it is imperative in cases of parental alienation for the Court to address this issue and strike the appropriate balance between the harm of continued parental isolation against the harm that would arise from separating a child from their primary carer
In this case, it was concluded the changing the child’s primary carer would be the lesser of the two harms and therefore in the best interests of the child.
The change of primary carer is one of the court’s ultimate sanctions. I have been successfully involved in a number of cases where this occurred because of the extreme conduct of one of the parents.
HOW CAN WE HELP YOU
Even if it is not a change of residence we have often tackled cases where parents felt like they were are the end of their tethers and turned them around so that they once again became a meaningful part of their child’s lives despite the hostility of the other parent.
Our family law team has over 35 years of successful experience dealing with such issues.
If you are facing a similar situation, we can assist you. We can offer an initial fixed fee consultation for £360 (based upon an hourly rate of £300.00+ vat per hour) to review your case and advise you as to the available remedies.
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