The previous two posts can be found here.
Complementing and enabling this work, by helping to remove the legal barriers erected by the alienating parent, was one of our network of McKenzie Friends, a much more cost-effective alternative to using a solicitor and a lot less daunting than representing yourself in court.
In this blog, Amanda outlines the nature of her interaction with Will and his son that paved the way for the reunification of father and son:
I became McKenzie Friend for Will after, disillusioned and around £30k less well off, he found himself needing to apply for enforcement.
He was referred to me and we met so that I could hear what had happened in his case. His 6 year old son Zac was living hundreds of miles away, following separation, and he had literally run out of money to deal with the relentless obstructions that the mother was placing in the way of their relationship.
At our first meeting, I viewed his paperwork and heard the story in his words. I could hear that there were most certainly elements of alienation here. When a parent has to return to Court time and time again, despite Court Orders, that is a big clue and whilst I had no criticism of the work that Solicitors had done for Will and Zac to date, it always concerns me when parents are “forced” to spend tens of thousands just to get Court Orders to spend time with their children with no guarantee of enforcement. Will had the money, and could have continued to pay for representation.
What about all the thousands of parents that don’t. Who helps them?
In any case, Will had decided that he wanted to give self-representation a go. And so we made the application, and forged onwards. A good Mckenzie Friend will give loads of support and advice for free, which when dealing with high conflict or alienation cases, can be invaluable, and so we talked often and at length about what to do and what we needed to be asking the Court for.
It was very clear from the outset that the mother in this case was not going to comply with the existing Order, and we immediately asked the Court to appoint a Guardian under Rule 16.4, which they did. This then led to various interventions, including a third party organisation called Core Assets, attempting to work with the family.
They made a few attempts to work with Zac, whom the mother said had suddenly become afraid of his father (this had been said before), due to a whole host of allegations which included things that had happened when the child was very young (and had previously been dealt with by the Court and Cafcass), and new allegations, such as ridiculous assertions that Will had eaten the child’s food, and had returned him muddy and wet.
It was observed by Core Assets that the mother would not leave Zac for them to hand him over to Will, and at one stage she was overheard telling him quietly that he “didn’t have to go.”
This is something we see time and again, the coercive control and manipulation of little minds.
At one very memorable meeting, with the Guardian, Core Assets, the mother and the mother’s partner, the hostility towards the father was palpable from both the mother and her new partner and it was at that stage that Core Assets said that there was nothing they could do, that the child was simply too anxious and mother too implacably hostile to work with.
At the next hearing, we made a Part 25 Application, for a report by a psychologist, and were lucky enough to get our preferred expert. Navigating such applications as a litigant in person is never easy, and we needed the support of both the Guardian and the mother’s solicitor to get this done and again I cannot stress as the financial burden was Will’s alone. Had he not had those available funds (in the region of £6,000) I am unsure that he would be spending time with Zac to this day.
The expert report was amazingly detailed and clearly identified alienation, along with a recommended action plan which included reunification work which then paved the way for us to further propose an Independent Social Worker for to carry out the action plan.
Our preference was to use Alison (who features earlier), knowing how experienced she was in cases like this, but the Guardian was cautious due to the distance between her and the case. Again, the father’s willingness and ability to fund this work and cover the majority of the cost ensured that he secured Alison’s support.
As a McKenzie Friend, this case was one of my longest running, with proceedings from Enforcement Application to conclusion lasting just over 2 years. I continue to support Will, and he will call for advice, guidance and coaching on all aspects of co-parenting which I give for free, and currently things continue to go well for him and Zac.
I certainly hope we never see a return to Court.
I must stress that there are many, many parents that I work for as a McKenzie Friend who do not have the money to pay for my minimal fees, let alone a solicitor or a barrister and for whom the costs associated with a Part 25 Application such as the one Will made would be completely unaffordable.
It is one of the absolute scandals of our age that people are denied justice and a relationship with their children as a consequence of financial hardship, especially when this has been caused by the divorce process itself.
We hope we are able to provide a much more affordable and cost-effective alternative to trying to deal with alienation all alone.