The case of Re S, an Appeal Court judgment in the UK in May 2020, was summarised in the judgment as follows –
In summary, in a situation of parental alienation the obligation on the court is to respond with exceptional diligence and take whatever effective measures are available. The situation calls for judicial resolve because the line of least resistance is likely to be less stressful for the child and for the court in the short term. But it does not represent a solution to the problem. Inaction will probably reinforce the position of the stronger party at the expense of the weaker party and the bar will be raised for the next attempt at intervention. Above all, the obligation on the court is to keep the child’s medium to long term welfare at the forefront of its mind and wherever possible to uphold the child and parent’s right to respect for family life before it is breached. In making its overall welfare decision the court must therefore be alert to early signs of alienation. What will amount to effective action will be a matter of judgement, but it is emphatically not necessary to wait for serious, worse still irreparable, harm to be done before appropriate action is taken. It is easier to conclude that decisive action was needed after it has become too late to take it.
Read the full Appeal Court Judgment here
The concluding sentence in this judgment, from the perspective of child protection is powerful and speaks of the need for preventative action in cases where children are at risk of alienation. The judgment as a whole, set a tone of decisive action within the family courts in the UK in which interventions such a residence transfer were recognised as necessary in order to protect children from harm.
Having been appealed, the case returned to the High Court. Originally due to be in front of the President of the Family Division, the case was heard by Mr Justice Williams whose judgment can be read here.
Whilst this judgement looks likely to be appealed, there are a number of significant points within it which demonstrate that the Judiciary in the UK have a firm grip on the management of such cases. For anyone who works in this field, this is to be welcomed because when the legal system interlocks with the mental health intervention, resolution for children suffering from non accidental injury to the mind, is swift.
The conclusions within this judgment offer clear guidance for anyone working in this field in terms of how the Court views the need to protect children suffering from alienation.
Point 63 is a clear statement of the Court’s view of the impact of alienation and the harm that enmeshment with a parent causes.
However, all of her views have to be assessed having regard to the fact that they are distorted by the prism of alienation. Her wishes and feelings are the subjective result of exposure to harmful beliefs and practices which have led to her alienation from her father and her enmeshment with her mother. She is nine years old. I do not consider it necessary to obtain any more up to date evidence of her views. Ms Ware is a highly experienced independent social worker who has acted as a children guardian for many years and I accept her assessment that seeking the child’s views would be likely to engender further conflict and distress for the child.
The outcome of this case was that the child was transferred to live with her father. As in some cases of transfer, it appears that the child returned to her mother after being collected by her father but the police were involved and the Judge did not change his position and thus the decision of the Court was upheld.
When cases are managed in this way, children who are enmeshed with the narratives of psychologically unwell parents, are protected as a first priority. The influencing parent is constrained which makes treatment of the split state of mind in the child possible.
Just as in non accidental physical injury, this is a child protection approach to case management which sets a precedent in the UK, as such it is to be welcomed.