When considering what order to make in respect of a child and what is in their best interests, the court must consider the statutory checklist at section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989. The first of these factors is ‘the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding)’.

“Ascertainable” vs “expressed” wishes and feelings

The court should draw a distinction between the child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings and their expressed wishes and feelings. This will be particularly important in cases where one parent is influencing or even coaching the child, so that what they are saying may not reflect their real wishes and feelings.

In the recent case of Re L (a child) [2019] EWHC 867 the court emphasised that focus must be placed on the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, stating that “actions speak louder than words”. In that case, there was a striking contrast between what the child said about his father in the presence of his mother – which was entirely negative – and the reality of their relationship. The court accepted the view of the Guardian that any expression of the child’s wishes would be unlikely to represent his true wishes and feelings, and to that extent it would not be possible to ascertain the child’s genuine view. Further, the court accepted the Guardian’s opinion that it would have been emotionally harmful to ask the child, in those particular circumstances, which parent he wanted to live with. The court also held that, whilst it is a fundamental principle which is applicable to every case, the manner and degree to which the child is heard will vary from case to case.

(Content Above from Today’s Family Lawyer)

There is a great deal of misinformation on the internet which is designed to mislead the reader on the matter of how children’s welfare is considered in the family courts. Bearing in mind that most families make the crossing from together to apart, without entering into the family courts, it is the case that those who do use them, are often forced to do so because there is no other means by which to maintain a relationship with a loved child. In the current toxic atmosphere which surrounds the family courts, it is very easy to become drawn into the polarised ideological fight which is currently focused upon attempts to obfuscate the harm which is caused to children when they are influenced or manipulated. Staying out of that, by recognising how the Children Act works, is an essential part of keeping the focus upon the welfare of the child.

When working with children who align with one parent and reject the other outright, often with contempt and sometimes with allegations which are found to be false, the focus is always on the welfare needs of the child. Understanding that children may sometimes require, interventions which prevent them from being harmed by a parent who is fixated upon their own views and through that, binding a child into their false beliefs, is about child protection. When children reject a parent who was seen to be loved and was seen to be good enough, the focus has to be upon the parent to whom the child is aligned because it is there that the pathological patterns of behaviour, which cause the child harm, are seen.

The myth that anyone who does this work is giving children to abusive fathers, is a trope which was introduced into the narrative in the UK in 2020 and it is just that, a myth. Children who are harmed in divorce and separation, are harmed by their mothers and harmed by their fathers and in such circumstances, where there is a strong alignment with one and a complete rejection of the other, children are doing the only thing they can do in extremely difficult circumstances. The primitive defence of psychological splitting, is induced by a parent whose intra-psychic conflicts create anxiety in the child, that they are either going to be abandoned by that parent or, enmesh the child into a fused dyadic relationship. This is the source of the harm to the child and where it is seen, the latent vulnerability it causes, means that there is a necessity to act to protect the child.

Despite the rise in child led theories of parenting, it is still the responsibility of adults to raise their children, who are not born with the capacity to make wise choices for themselves but are guided to understand their needs and then begin to make decisions and choices as their capacity grows. Neuroscience explains why children do not have the capacity to make reasoned decisions, in its explanation of how the brain develops and when this is understood in the context of how children are vulnerable in emotionally and psychologically charged circumstances, it is clear why decisions may have to be made which are not necessarily in line with how children express their wishes and feelings.

Understanding the ascertainable wishes and feelings of an aligned child, means that their wishes and feelings are understood in the context in which the arise and the age of the child and their understanding of what is happening. Children suffering from induced psychological splitting, in which their expression of absolute love for one parent and absolute hatred for the other, do not have the capacity to understand what is happening because they are defended against that and thus unable to make decisions for themselves which are based in reality. In circumstances such as this, the child’s wishes and feelings are heard but understood in the context in which they arise, the Court having the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the child, some of which may not be to the child’s liking.

In circumstances where children align and reject it is the case that beneath this outward presentation are often layers of complex dynamics in the relationship between aligned parent and child and years of struggle by the rejected parent to maintain input in the child’s life. When the relationship between aligned parent and child is scrutinised over time, those layers of complex dynamics are raised to the surface, giving an opportunity to test whether that parent can change their behaviours. If a parent cannot change and the child remains in a fused dyadic relationship, consideration has to be given to how that affects the child over time. This is far away from the campaign strap lines of abusive fathers and protective mothers, it is child focused work which takes a long view of the child’s best chances for health and wellbeing. To achieve that some difficult decisions may need to be made by the Court but nonetheless it remains all about the long term wellbeing of the child.

Putting Children First in this work is about giving children the very best chance in life so that they do not have to deal with the long term psychological/psychiatric impacts of being captured in a parent’s intra-psychic conflicts, this is about child protection from a relational trauma which causes longer term fracturing of sense of self. Induced psychological splitting in divorce and separation causes longer term harms which cannot be readily seen in the here and now. Working with the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, allows for a longer view and wise decisions on protection from that risk of harm.

Holding up a healthy mirror

Tue 14 Mar 2023 08:0010:00 GMT

Online, Zoom

Holding up a healthy mirror: Becoming a therapeutic parent to alienated children

An online course for alienated parents and their families with Karen Woodall

The course will be delivered on Zoom, in 4 x two-hour sessions, on the following dates:

  • 14 March 2023
  • 21 March 2023
  • 28 March 2023
  • 4 April 2023

Cost £180 .00

About this course:

Children who hyper align with a parent and reject the other in divorce and separation are usually in the age group 8-14 years. This is because this age group is in a stage in which their sense of self and personality is under development and the ego is not strong enough to regulate the anxieties which are generated by the experience of attachment disruption in family separation.

What we know about children who experience these difficulties, is that they can be helped when one of their parents is able to understand their experience and in response, hold up a healthy mirror. When the holding of this mirror is consistent, the child who has suffered from induced psychological splitting which is demonstrated by aligning themselves with one parent and rejecting the other, can experience an integrated sense of self which assists in recovery.

In order to hold up a healthy mirror, the parent in the rejected position must first address the reactive splitting that they are likely to have suffered. Reactive splitting, which occurs when the child rejects, (often accompanied by false allegations), can cause a parent to feel natural reactions such as anger, bewilderment and shame. These feelings, which are normal in the circumstances, can become blocks and barriers to the child’s recovery as the parent refutes the allegations and shows the child their reactive feelings. In these circumstances, the child withdraws further, struggling with their own guilt and shame and begins to split off their feelings further.

Restoring health to rejected parents begins with an understanding of what has happened internally and how that has become entangled with the child’s own splitting reactions. When parents are able to map this splitting across the family system, their own reactive splitting can integrate and they can begin the work of developing the healthy mirror needed by the child.

Parents who have healed reactive splitting can then learn to apply the skills of therapeutic parenting. This is an approach to parenting children who are suffering from attachment disorder due to being emotionally and psychologically harmed. Alienated children with therapeutic parents, are shown in evaluation, to be able to recover quickly from the underlying harms which have caused their rejecting behaviours.

On this course you will learn:

  • What psychological splitting is, how it occurs and why
  • How to identify your own reactive splitting
  • How to integrate split thinking in a fractured landscape
  • How to build integrated thinking strategies
  • What to embrace and what to avoid when rebuilding health in the face of alienation
  • How to build the healthy mirror your child needs
  • Mentalisation strategies for mirroring health
  • The power and importance of consistent mirroring
  • How other parents have used integrated mirroring to bring their children back to health
  • Therapeutic parenting – an integrated skills set
  • Building a consistent communications strategy for recovering your children
  • Working with the counter intuitive approach necessary to enable alienated children to withdraw their projections
  • Staying healthy amidst the chaos caused by psychological splitting

Based on successful work with many families around the world, Karen Woodall will share with you the deep knowledge of how to recover children from the nightmare landscape of psychological splitting. Karen has helped families to rebuild health and wellbeing with children of all ages and has developed a structural approach to working with alienation which is easily translated into strategies which can be used by parents.

Please note:

A link to the event will be emailed to you, separately. This may not be sent until a few hours before the session is due to begin. If you have not received the link, please check your spam folders. If you are still unable to find the email, please contact parenting@familyseparationclinic.co.uk

You can find our terms and conditions here

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