There are some cases where the enmity between the separated parents is just too great and where their own emotional needs are so great and their behaviours are so damaging that they cannot see the wood for the trees. Whilst many of these parents will blame the legal system, regardless of what system were to be put in place, left unchecked, these damaging behaviours would be left to rage out of control like a firestorm in an Australian summer.
It is not the legal system that is to blame. The damage, I hazard a guess was done years before such families come to the attention of the Courts. I also hazard a guess that the ingredients for the maelstrom of malevolence and dysfunctionality were sown long ago and the answer may lie in the make-up of one or both parents or indeed in the volatile combination of them as a couple. And in the eye of every parenting storm, there is a child; defenceless and dependent.
As a family lawyer who prides herself on being child focussed and allowing the best interests of a given child dictate my advice to my clients, the saddest thing I have to say to a parent is to leave a child to the other parent. Occasionally we come across a family where the damage is so extreme, where the parental alienation by one parent of the other is so complete and the brainwashing of a child is so comprehensive, that it is nigh on impossible to turn back the tide of disaffection between parent and child.
I had one such case recently. I was asked for a second opinion about a set of Court orders which meant that the alienated parent was unable to see any effective positive change due to the ongoing manipulation of their child. Despite the Court recognising that the parent with whom the child was living had alienated the child against the other parent and despite a counsellor being appointed by the Court to make post judgment recommendations and work with the child, the counsellor was also being frustrated in their role.
When I read the case in which an English judge – Justice Peter Jackson – decided to frame his decision in a letter to a 14 year old boy to help him understand why his Honour had made the decision he did, it reminded me so very strongly of my recommendation to my alienated client.
I told my client that they could indeed go back to Court. They could seek alternate orders to those made on the basis that the existing orders were being frustrated so as to become unworkable due to the behaviour of the other parent. It was clear that enforcement of the orders was also an avenue open to the client. That said, I was of the opinion that the so called “successful parent” had been so complete in their domination and manipulation of the child that no further court decision or no amount of tweaking or indeed major rewrite of court orders would produce a different result.
Instead of giving Counsel Family Lawyers money to take the matter back to Court in which there would be no palpable change in this family’s outcome, I advised my client instead to start writing the world’s longest love letter from a parent to a child. I advised my client to see the world through their child’s eyes and to imagine that their child who was in the grip of the other parent was akin to the child being caught in a rip; snatching the child out to sea and not letting go. I went on to say that it was a case of waiting for the rip to start to let go and for the child to want to start swimming to shore. What my client had to become, in the meanwhile, was a great, shining beacon of love and hope so that when the child (at some cruelly ill-defined date in the future) does scan the shores, there my client would be with outstretched hands and an open heart full of love.
For this is what we are all meant to be in our essence – love. And yet how poorly we let that guide us in our behaviours when we fight each other as parents.
And sometimes, there is no Pollyanna that enables you to let your guard down and love unconditionally due to your former partner and their stance against you as the other parent. Sometimes you do need to call upon the full weight of the law to explore every available avenue to rescue a child. And sometimes you need to walk away and wait.
At Counsel Family Lawyers we recognise the complexity of children’s issues and the nuances which are evident and less than evident in some of these most complex of cases.
By Caroline Counsel
If you would like to read letter referred to above, please click the link http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/48.html
The information in this blog does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon by you. If you require advice specific to your situation you must contact Counsel Family Lawyers for legal advice. The contents of this blog are relevant as at 1 August 2017. We recommend you obtain specific advice relevant to you and your family situation.