Residence Transfer as a Treatment Route For Parental Alienation: Not The Nuclear Option

I read this week that a transfer of residence is the ‘nuclear option’ for treatment of parental alienation in the UK .  The discussion arises from a public judgement in which the child concerned was sent to live with her father.  Whilst there is a significant wrangling about the decision, based on the argument that the child had been too damaged already to be helped by a change of residence, (the judge finding that a particularly unattractive argument put forward by the mother), the words at the end of the Judgement are clear, the child will go to live with her father today.

That reality, which could just as easily read, the child will go to live with her mother today, given that fathers alienate mothers too, is one which causes too many people to become uneasy when they contemplate it.  Which is why I guess, it is called by some, the ‘nuclear option.’  But is it a nuclear option?  When it is considered from the perspective of the alienated child’s expressed wishes and feelings, it is possible to think of it in that way yes.  But when it is considered from the perspective of what parental alienation is and the damage it does to a child, no it is not.  It is not nuclear at all. It is in fact, the only  healthy decision to make on behalf of a child who is trapped in an impossible dilemma.  Once that decision is made and enacted, those who considered it a nuclear option are often extremely surprised by the child’s volte-face on arrival at the home of the once ‘hated’ parent.  If people knew more about parental alienation and the damage it does to a child, perhaps they would feel less uncomfortable about making and carrying out such a decision. Perhaps then it would not be considered a nuclear option at all, but in fact the only response to the recognised fact that the child concerned cannot cope with the dynamics caused by one parent acting against the other, or in some circumstances, two parents engaged in a high conflict situation.

I have written this before but it is worth writing it again.  A child who is alienated by one parent acting against the other is a child whose emotional and psychological self has been damaged.  We cannot see this damage because it is not physical, but if it were physical it would be akin to broken arms and legs.  Some of the children I have worked with in transfer of residence cases have demonstrated both the ability to instantly reconnect with a former rejected parent and the long term damage that being alienated has done to them. Whilst children find reconnection relatively easy in the right circumstances, the longer term impact upon them of what a parent has done in breaking their perspective and their trust in adults, is clear.  There is nothing ‘nuclear’ about taking a severely harmed child and placing them with their healthy and loving other parent as happens in direct transfer of residence.  What people forget, when they speak of the dangers of attachment disruption in removing a child from a parent who has caused harm, is that the child has already suffered one attachment disruption in being forced to choose to lose a parent in the first place.  That attachment disruption which is seen in parental alienation, causes the child to bury the love that they felt for a parent in a process of entering into psychological splitting.  It is a cruel thing for a child to have to undergo this process because somewhere, they are aware of what they have had to do in order to survive the pressures placed upon them.  It is an additionally cruel thing for a child to have to give answers to questions about whether they like, love or loathe a parent and in my work, when I see a child in such a place, I do everything I can to avoid heaping more of this pressure upon them.

Alienated children desperately need the adults around them to take charge of the psychological and emotional space and for decisions to be made for and about them which are responsive to their underlying reality and not their surface voices.  In doing so, adults must take the greatest care to ensure that the dynamics in the family are properly differentiated so that the right intervention is matched to the presenting problem. Get it right and the child is liberated from the double bind swiftly. Get it wrong and the child is plunged further into the abyss with little hope of being able to get out during their childhood years.

Perhaps what people forget most of all, is that beyond the rhetoric which is heard from the alienated parent, the reality is that the rejected parent is loved by the child but the child is unable to show it.  Trusting that this love is present in the unconscious mind of the child and working alongside good enough rejected parents who are willing and able to do the work necessary to build the platform for recovery for their children, practitioners can be bold in their interventions and they should be.  If this was serious physical harm the child’s arms and legs would be broken, just because the harm is psychological, emotional and mental, doesn’t mean that the harm is not serious and sustained.

When I meet alienated children what I see is more or less the same every time. I see a small frightened being who has been used to managing the world through over anxious and empowered behaviour. A child who has learned to control the world through their refusals and a child who is locked into a delusion that the parent they have rejected is unsafe.  Alienated children dream of being locked in cupboards, being chased by wolves with fangs and being attacked by knives. These repeating themes seem to me to be the inculcated nightmares of the parent they enmeshed with. The locked doors and cupboards are the nightly manifestations of the way in which the unconscious mind is managing the repression of the rejected parent.

When I work with children in residence transfer, which can be as complex as stepping stone care or as simple as collecting them from school and taking them home to a parent they tell me they hate, I know that what I am doing is not carrying out the ‘nuclear option’ but the right intervention to assist the child to recover a normal healthy childhood.  This is why I do what I do, because children deserve to be unconsciously content in the world and safe in the care of a healthy parent.  Alienated children are not those things but they need to be, which is why transfer of residence is, in a properly differentiated case which calls for it,  the only option, not the nuclear one.

The Family Separation Clinic provides residence transfer care in a twelve week package which includes support through the transfer to the point where the child has recovered normal range responding to a once rejected parent and then in an intensive delivery to ensure that the children progresses effectively through the recovery process.  Beyond twelve weeks the child is re-introduced to the previously alienating parent and is supported in supervised contact (in most cases) to enter into as balanced a relationship as is possible in the circumstances.  For residence transfer care please email office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk

A note about engaging FSC in your case.  It is not possible to go into court and ask for the Family Separation Clinic to be engaged in your case without following protocol.  If you wish to engage the Clinic in your family case you must inform us and request the documents from us which are necessary to apply to the court.  The Clinic works with parental alienation cases, suspected or already judged upon and is rarely brought into the early part of any family case in the UK.  When your solicitor, or you as a LIP, wish to apply for a part 25 expert (applies in UK only), you must contact the Clinic and inform us that you are doing this. When you make your application, you or your solicitor must submit the correct documents and information to support your application which we will supply.  Instructions and enquiries about instructions should be sent to office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk

21 Comments

  1. Hi Karen
    To be honest the commentary that fuelled this article is not very good. The headline is accurate but the first sentence immediately wanders off piste and perhaps says more about the writer than the case. To characterise the outcome as ‘The ’nuclear option’, when it comes to intractable contact disputes…’, is plainly a misleading use of language because the judge does not use the term intractable even once. Neither does she refer to the case even once as a contact dispute. The description implacable is also missing. Thank god it is because people have finally realised that cases can only be called implacable after there have been numerous attempts to placate an abusive parent. This has demonstrated systemic failure, lack of expertise and lack of training because judgments indicated that court professionals repeatedly failed to notice and act upon abusive behaviours. The lack of appropriate intervention until a case could safely be labelled implacable resulted in alienation becoming entrenched, much hand wringing and children being deprived of any semblance of normality with the backing of the courts in too many cases for anyone to feel comfortable.

    Rather than deal with a problem the choice of a different word has effectively swept it under the carpet. Now the word of choice in some sectors is ‘intractable’. This conforms with the narrative that only those parents that are too immature, vindictive, argumentative, uncompromising, vexatious, difficult, stubborn, rigid, etc etc resort to the courts. Whereas, the reality is that for some devoted parents the only way that they can salvage a relationship with their children, and possibly rescue them from the clutches of an abuser, is via the courts. Let’s put this another way; the only way that some children can be rescued from being emotionally abused is by allowing and supporting their non-resident parent’s access to the courts. Nonetheless, anyone forced to go down this road is portrayed as having failed in some way. In reality some parents really are caped crusaders because they maintain their devotion, care and unconditional love relentlessly and in spite of a system in denial that sadly, as in this situation, includes social workers and lawyers.

    The judge has chosen her words carefully. She uses the word alienation 4 times. She uses harm, harmful etc 28 times. The title of the case gives an immediate clue as to what the case is about i.e Re B (change of residence; parental alienation) [2017] EWFC B24. The title, the vocabulary used and the orders made state clearly that these were certainly not yet another pair of parents that too many lawyers lazily pigeonhole and disparagingly label as intractable. Surely, any parent that endures the ordeal of the legal system because they care about and love their children unconditionally deserves praise, support and respect. The cases about them and their children should not be written about in inaccurate, deprecatory and belittling terms.

    What the case does show, as do other recent cases, is that there is a paucity of awareness and training in the lower courts and the professions advising them. But for the intervention of this judge and a knowledgable psychologist yet another child could easily have joined a long line of children whose childhoods have been ruined unnecessarily by the system waiting for cases to become implacable before even thinking about intervening.

    Cases bearing the hallmarks of alienation could easily be flagged up and managed appropriately as early as the Mediation information and assessment meeting. The other thing the judge in this case shows is how relatively easy it is for anyone to be a little more critical of what is being said in order for alarm bells to start ringing loudly. It is frustrating that, no matter how diligently the courts set out their reasoning, some are inclined to rewrite history.

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    1. Hi PS, yes it’s not good but the thing is I hear the phrase ‘nuclear option’ time and again in my work in court. A lot of the legal people say it and they even present it as being the nuclear option in court cases and it shouldn’t be thought of or spoken about like that in my view because as you say the delay it causes is incredibly damaging for children. Moving a child to live predominantly with their other parent is a healthy decision to make if the parent they are currently living with cannot or will not ensure that the child is supported to change. A lot of the time when I am instructed in cases it is at a point where the alienation is active in the child to the point where the parent cannot change it anyway because the delay has been so immense. Ensuring that a dynamic change takes place swiftly in such a case is one of the first things I do, if I cannot effect such a change then I ask the court for the orders which create the dynamic change in power and then I create the opportunity for dynamic change in the child. As residence transfer is so little understood I will write more about it on here and for legal channels as well so that there is more knowledge of why it should be used and when. We are developing protocols at the moment and these will feed into case management over time. Lots going on in the background, plenty to be hopeful about though change will of course remain patchy. K

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      1. Hi Karen
        I would guess that mischaracterising, the child’s opportunity to be free from emotional abuse and placing them with a safe, well adjusted parent and emotionally available parent, does not sound like a ‘nuclear option’ to anyone capable of critical thought and analysis. The thing that has really hit home with me is how the style adopted by some commentators closely mirrors that of alienating parents. The main rhetorical tool they engage is the straw man style of fallacious argument. That is, mischaracterising a proposition in order to make it easier to deprecate or attack.
        I’ve noticed it a few times lately and i intend to call these people out whenever i see it repeated. I would encourage others to do the same because the people guilty of this are really behaving like alienators and promoting a point of view that is misleading and highly damaging to the children affected. If anyone wants to find out more about how to argue against, how to spot or even how to avoid using fallacious argument then check out Carl Sagen’s ‘This Demon Haunted World’, Chapter 12, ‘The fine art of baloney detection’.

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  2. Karen, on the wider implications of residence change…depending on how close/far apart the parents live, a change of residence for the child(ren) may also involve a change in school, loss of friendships, beloved clubs/activities, change in financial realities etc. The scope of the change may well not be limited to purely which parent the child(ren) lives with. Do you then prioritise change of residence above all the other significant implications such a change may entail for a child? The older the child the greater the impact on them of disrupting their education, their peer friendships….none of which is surely going to improve their feelings towards the rejected parent they are moving to? With older kids how do you balance all this?? As always your expert input would be greatly appreciated.

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    1. the issue is that if a child is alienated their psychological self is split and so their psychological and emotional selves have been seriously harmed. It is that harm which must be dealt with first. If a child’s arms and legs are being broken or the child is being physically abused we would not think twice about putting the child’s safety above everything else and so it is with alienation, it must be placed above everything else. The issue about the child’s feelings about the parent they are moving to is that they have been forced to hate that parent and it is a false presentation, they do not hate that parent, they just appear as if they do. On removal from the parent with whom an encapsulated delusional belief is shared, the belief pops like a bubble and the child is able to reconnect to the love they feel in the unconscious mind. This means that above all else, that parent’s healthy love for the child will assist the child to recover balance. The older the child the more important it is to get the decision to move the child right. As I have said before, decisions about residence transfer can be made on false positives if the people doing the differentiation are poorly trained or not aware of the underlying dynamics. I think the key thing for anyone to understand is that the alienation reaction is not real in terms of the child resenting or needing to be persuaded that the parent they are being moved to live with is ok. When they are moved and the influence of the alienating parent is curtailed, all of that falls away completely and the alienation reaction is gone. As alienation is such a damaging experience for a child, I prioritise treating it above everything else because if we do not do so the damage to the child is severe enough to be called and adverse childhood experience and it causes long lasting harm in all spheres of life. K

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      1. Thanks Karen for clarifying this….I guess sometimes it’s a question of assessing the greatest harm and then letting the other issues take second,third place etc. I guess it’s wanting to make everything easier on the child(ren), but having to swallow that sometimes this simply isn’t possible. It’s a step at a time..

        In your reply to CA below I painfully recognise that “the issue is CA that an alienated child is not speaking his/her own wishes and feelings but those of the alienating parent. Which is why we do not listen to the surface voice but the signs of alienation which tell us the child is in an encapsulated delusion”. Yet the reality in UK, as I understand it, is that the surface voice IS the one that is being widely listened to and little attention is being paid to analysing the signs of alienation, resulting in chaos and pain, and life long implications….until there is an agreed systematic approach to analysing PA cases properly across the legal system, I cannot see things changing for the better.

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      2. I agree SS (and I know that I need to reply to your email too and I will, it has been hectic this last few days). The surface voice is the one being listened to largely and there is no systematic approach you are right and the risk of confirmation bias is incredibly high – some social workers make decisions based on nothing more than whether they like someone or not and have little to refer to in terms of analysis. I’ve worked with some terrifyingly inept social workers in cases where I have vehemently disagreed with their views and they haven’t liked it. The situation is pretty desperate if you are involved in it and there is no-one there who understands but decisions are made on whimsy. K

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  3. I very much concur with Sadsam, particularly a change of residence that involved a child, who was alienated by a parent, M and subsequently abandoned by M to the parent F. Then after two and half years living with F, because F decided to remarry, M then uses the so-called Professionals of the Social Services to uproot the child from all the things listed by Sadsam against the child’s wishes and feelings, and return the child to M who alienated and abandoned him. Further, at the early stage of the abandonment, both parent F and the child did all they could to make M see reason and show interest in the child, but to no avail. Rather parent M embarked in all sorts of blackmail against parent F, even in the presence of the child.

    Such a change of residence would only breed hatred in the child for constituted authority, who acted against his wishes and feelings. The child may seem to have adapted to the parent who once alienated his other loving parent and subsequently abandoned him, only as a method of coping with the current stress he or she finds him/herself in, but that definitely does not imply that the case is settled with the child. A case that readily demonstrates this is that of the child of a famous singer, who relocated with a parent to the USA, but as the child turned to the age where his wishes would not be swept under the carpet, he returned to the other parent on his own. One can imagine how disruptive such a yo-yo change of residence would be in the child’s all-round healthy development.

    When the child is of age to repeatedly and independent of the parents express his/her wishes and feelings, in my opinion and experience, it is best to respect the child’s wishes and feelings. As the saying goes, blood is thicker than water, so with time (this could be anything from 1 year to 5 years) the child would gravitate on his or her own to strike a balance between the two parents (who so hate each other), whom he/she equally and unconditionally loves. Forcing a child against his/her wishes to relocate is only pushing the emotional and psychological stress to later life, when it could be more dangerous, not only to the child, but probably to the society as well.

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    1. the issue is CA that an alienated child is not speaking his/her own wishes and feelings but those of the alienating parent. Which is why we do not listen to the surface voice but the signs of alienation which tell us the child is in an encapsulated delusion. To leave such a child or do as such a child wishes is deeply damaging and long term it causes severe harm. A child who is alienated will often say they are speaking independently but in fact closer observation will show they are not. IN the circumstances you describe where a child is being used as ping pong ball and professionals are being triangulated it is a complete mess and no child should have to go through it. The point being that if someone alienates a child and abandons the child then they should forfeit the right to have any say in the matter from thereonin. the case of celebrity you are talking about wasn’t an alienation case, it was simply a case of a child growing up. K

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  4. My experience is that some professionals respond through their gut feelings and what they want the result to be.

    Providing the child is able to express an opinion, their indivisible love for the two parents makes them say the truthful facts from which they make their decision. In this particular case I have experience of, the child was 14, and the Children Guardian accepted the child’s wishes and feelings, so left the child where the child wanted. After about 1 year the child started communicating with the away parent, but never went to live with the away parent. The child at 27 bought his house, and now lives with the away parent in his house.

    Had the professionals gone against his wish when he was 14, the good relationship that exists between the child and each of the two parents may not have been nurtured. On relocation, the wishes of any child above the age of five, and not found to be mentally unbalanced, should never be swept under the carpet, particularly when such views are consistently expressed independent of the parent the child stays with, and there is no history or evidence of harm from the parent the child stays with.

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    1. CA, I don’t agree with your analysis which comes from, I think, a lack of understanding about parental alienation and a belief that children always speak the truth of their indivisible love for both parents, which they don’t and sometimes we have to go against what the children say and in doing so discover that their wellbeing is best supported by NOT going with their wishes and feelings. Sometimes what the child says is untrue in terms of it being their own wishes and feelings and that is the expression of parental alienation.

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  5. Karen,
    I was spoken to by the Principal Practitioner in my case who discussed moving my then 14yr old son from his alienating dad, and “phasing” him back to me! After she explained that this would mean putting my son into foster care with the help of the local police force who wld accompany her to remove him from his daddy, he would then come visit me until our relationship was healed!! At this point I stopped her and advised that as his mother this would be an horrific experience for my son and if it happened he would hate me forever!! Indeed, his daddy assured the court that my boy would run away any chance he got, and could get hurt or worse……

    I still think this was the right decision to make for the well-being of my son at the time, and I have nothing against foster parents as my 2 best friends are specialist foster carers……am I now to assume I was wrong??

    Frankie x

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    1. it is difficult to say whether you were right or wrong Frankie, you acted as a mother would and chose not to have your son go through that process. The issue is that your son is trapped with his father and has no way out and the practitioner offered to facilitate the way out we would suggest in severe cases of alienation. The issue is that at 14 your son would have likely become entrenched in foster care unless the 90 day separation protocol was enforced in that he didn’t see his father for 90 days. The practitioner who carries this out has to be confident in what they are doing in order to ensure that all contact with the alienating parent is prevented for long enough for the alienation to lift. The warnings given by your son’s father are exactly those of an alienating parent, in reality children don’t run away or hurt themselves once removed from the source of the alienation. I can’ tell you whether your decision was right or wrong because I don’t know enough about your case, I would say that at 14 it is risky to do it but I have done it in a few cases and it is not horrific as people think it is. The issue is that an alienated child is trapped by the psychological, mental, emotional and physical control of the alienating parent and external forces have to be used to free the child, in the absence of that one has to wait until the child is old and big enough to stand up to the alienator and walk free themselves. The issue being of course that the mind of the child is influenced to support the alienator not walk away. It is such a difficult call that you must not torture yourself with the question Frankie because it is not possible to know what the outcome would have been. Kx

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  6. Thanks Karen, after reading your reply I know I did the right thing if we need to depend on the professionals….. the Principal Practitioner cldn’t even stop their father from sabotaging a meeting between my son, her and myself!! He sat outside the building having been specifically been told to keep away!! My wee boy was hysterical, so I hugged him and told him it would be ok. He replied through his tears, daddy said I could see you another day, just not today!! She then had a blazing row with their daddy who simply opened the car door, told my son to in the car, and drove off!!

    This was brought up in court….and passed over, comments made but that was it, job done!! Never saw her again!!
    The professionals are far from professional!!

    Frankie x

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