Chapter 8 in Lena Hellblom Sjögren´s book CHILDREN´S RIGHT TO FAMILY LIFE. 25 SWEDISH CASE STUDIES OF PARENTAL ALIENATION
The child is separated from his father and is influenced to reject him
In the most difficult child custody disputes an implacable hostility can be observed. What may be harder to spot, or grasp, is why such hostility develops. The reasons are, as with the cases in which the child is unjustifiably separated from his mother, diverse.
What is possible to observe is that the children involved are harmed. The focus is on what the involved authority figures usually call an adult conflict. Thus, the focus is not on the children’s needs and right to have a good and close contact with both their parents and their various family networks.
Within a fairly short time, the children are separated from their father and often prevented from meeting him, only hear negative things about him, and are strongly distanced from their father and everything associated with him.
Here, as in the chapter on children separated from their mothers, it concerns only the cases in which there was no factual basis for separating the child from the child’s father.
In this particular case, I investigated the children’s best interests at the request of their father, who after several negative experiences with lawyers chose to be his own litigator. The father provided me with documentation on the case: investigations, reports, statements and submissions made to the Court by the mother’s counsel and from his former attorneys as well as documents from the father. I then attended the court hearing in the district court, and gave testimony.
Mac, Mick and Mica
The district court awarded the father sole custody*
Mac was born in 1995, Mick in 1998 and Mica in 2003. Their father is from the United States, their mother from Sweden. The father has dual citizenship, as well as the children. The parents met abroad and had lived on several occasions in the United States, such as when the mother got a job there. Both parents have higher academic education. Their oldest son was born in the United States, the other two in Sweden.
The father looked for housing and at schools during late summer 2004 for the oldest boys in the United States, after the parents jointly decided to move there. In July 2004 the father, who was in the United States and preparing forthe family’s relocation there, received the following text message from the mother:
“The kids miss you and can’t wait to see you again. I also think that they are quite excited about the US. Love you and have a great day!”
In October 2004, when the youngest son was nearly a year old, the parents moved into a house they had agreed to rent for a year in the father’s hometown in the U.S., where the children’s grandfather and other relatives lived. Their furniture and other household items arrived soon after.
The mother signed a one-year contract at the nearby gym on November 15, 2004.
Sudden breakup from the father and the United States
Just before the move to the United States, the mother had signed a contract for a new job in Sweden – at the same time she was collecting maternity leave from another job in Sweden. The father criticized the mother for this duplicity, and they began to quarrel and fight.
Suddenly, a month before Christmas in 2004, the mother said that she wanted a divorce.
The mother called for her aunt from Sweden, and with her help took the three boys back to Sweden on December 12, 2004.
It was a sudden and unexpected departure, not least for the two oldest children who had started in their new school in the U.S. and had begun to make new friends.
The father had to remain in the U.S. and arrange for disenrollment of the children from school, termination of the house lease, sale of the car they had bought, storage of their furniture that had arrived from Sweden, cancellation of the mother’s gym contract, etc.
After that he was to return to Sweden and share in the parenting as before. That was what the father planned for. But not the children’s mother, as it turned out.
The mother claims a risk of abduction
The mother filed for divorce and sole custody. The mother’s attorney stated when she wrote to the district court in January 2005:
“The return trip took place under chaotic conditions, with a police escort because the father and his relatives constantly threatened the mother and the children.”
Had the father threatened the mother and children? No. The mother had told the police at the airport that she expected the children’s father would cause trouble – and therefore requested protection. Three police officers were assigned to the mission. Nothing happened, according to the police report. But the mother’s behavior and the presence of the police officers she requested conveyed to the children that their father was dangerous.
On January 19, 2005, five weeks after the mother’s departure with the children from the United States, the mother’s attorney asked that the district court award the mother sole custody.
The following description was given:
“The father has threatened to take the children with him to the United States. He is currently reported to be in Sweden. The older children are terrified of their father and do not want under any circumstances to move to the USA. The father has been in telephone contact with the school, which caused the teachers to more or less set guards outside the classroom in order to prevent an abduction. The boy of six years needs professional help to get over the fear he feels, and when the boy of nineears came home from school the other day, his condition was very serious because of fear.”
On January 19, 2005, when the mother’s lawyer wrote this, only five weeks had passed since the mother took the boys with her from the U.S., where the parents had jointly planned to stay with the children for a year to begin with. During the five weeks that had passed the boys had not seen nor had contact with their father because he had not been told where they were. The mother had not enabled the boys to talk on the phone with their father.
The boys had thus been completely separated from their father for five weeks, while they had been told by their mother that their father would abduct them. The father had never “threatened to take the children with him to the United States.” That he would stage an “abduction” was something the mother said, and something she made others around her believe, not least the children.
The father found out, by contacting the principal of the children’s old school in Sweden, that the boys had returned there. After the father wound up commitments in the United States, he found an apartment in Sweden in the same town his boys and their mother were living. He was prepared to continue to carry out his role in the joint custody of the children.
Social Service’s investigators documented what they purported to be the children’s will
When the social workers conducted an investigation concerning custody, residence and visitation at the request of the district court, they wrote that the children “clearly express a will that they can justify.” They wrote:
“The children live with their mother and our assessment is that the mother can give herchildren good care, security, and love.”
“In talking to the oldest boys, they state at all times we have met them that they do not want to be with their father, that he is stupid and pinches. They have not been able to say anything positive about their father. ”
“Our impression when we met the children with their father is that they were very angry and disappointed at him. We have not ever considered them as afraid.”
“They have taken a position where dad is thoroughly bad and mom is all good. We have the impression that it is very important for them to retain their position.”
The question, What/who had brought the boys to totally reject their father after five weeks without contact with him, was not asked by the investigators.
The social workers concluded:
“The positions in the family in the current situation are too locked for visitation to be good for the boys. The boys need help to work through their anger. They also expressed that dad beats them …
The interest of getting visitation going must not go before the interest of protecting the children from suffering harm.”
The social workers had also noted that the children’s mother:
“stands passive when the children insult their father, and even on some occasions physically attack him with various objects.”
In the observations the social workers communicate, they demonstrate that they do not understand the portion of the adverse impact the mother had through her own repudiation, and thus how she influenced the children to also distance themselves from the father and reject him.
The mother reported abuse, the criminal investigation was closed
After the spring 2005 decision by the district court to allow summer visitation for two-week periods, the boys were able to see their father. The eldest boy had an epileptic seizure during the first of these visits. When the boys returned to their mother after having been with their father, the mother reported the father to the police for suspected abuse of the boys while they had been with him, referring to the epileptic seizure.
The father was interrogated by police on July 19, 2005 concerning the mother’s allegations that the father abused of the eldest boy. In the transcript of the hearing it states:
“He says that none of what the mother has said has happened, the mother is lying to get custody of the children. The father says that the mother has done a lot against him, beating and kicking him for a long time.”
“The mother refuses to leave the children with their father. When the father calls,the mother saysthat they do not want totalk to him.The father says that they do not get to talk to him because of the mother. ”
On October 24, 2005, the father received a ”Notification of prosecutorial decision”
“The preliminary investigation, regarding the mother’s reported abuse of the boys 2005-06-12–2005-06-26, is now closed.”
No contact between the children and their father
On November 17, 2005 the father filed for enforcement through an attorney, because he was not allowed to see his children in accordance with the district court’s judgment. The mother’s attorney replied, asking the Court decide on “mediation under Chapter 21. § 2 FB”. The lawyer mentioned that the mother “considers the ISS (International Social Service) biased” and that “she only wants help from X” (the name of an aid organization that she knew).
A mediator from the aid organization the mother wanted was appointed, and he wrote in his report on December 31, 2005 to the court:
”A core problem is that it is difficult to get the oldest boys to agree to meet their father, and when they meet him, they behave badly towards him.”
A “Statement of contact person´s interaction in visitation between the father and the children” was written by a social worker, at the request of the mother’s lawyer, and from this statement is quoted below:
“The mother is of the opinion at she cannot let the children meet the father in accordance with the decision.”
“She is of the opinion that the children cannot manage this based on their statements and reactions.”
“She wants the visitation to take place for 2 hours and in the presence of contact persons throughout the entire visitation.”
“The father maintains that interaction must take place according to the decision of the district court.”
“The mother believes that visitation can work if the children are provided safe circumstances.”
“The mother insists hat the contact persons must be present during the entire visitation since the two oldest children show strong concern for visitation with their father, and they have expressed that they do not want to be alone with him, according to their mother.”
“The mother is of the opinion that the children are not capable of having visitation which, from the beginning, lasts for nine hours.”
“In order for further and sustainable visitation to work, she considers two hours may be reasonable in light of the children’s reactions and given that the children have not seen their father since October 2005.”
“A third opportunity for visitation is scheduled for Sunday 5/13 and the father accepts that the visitation will last two hours. The mother is of the opinion that the children cannot handle a longer time. ”
“The second oldest boy expresses to the contact persons that he wants a guarantee that he can call his mother during the visitation if he is to meet with his father.
…He wants to be sure that he only has to meet dad for five minutes. The contact person promises the boy this because it is the only way to get him to come to the visitation.”
From these official sources we can see that the mother has made the boys dependent on her and that she wants to have total control over them, and that she makes them reject their father.
The mother also controls the professionals by manipulating them through the children; the contact person promises the boy that he only “needs to see dad for five minutes because that is the only way to get him to come to the visitation.”
The mother filed for sole custody in November 2006, and for the children’s visitation with their father to be in the presence of a contact person. Nor was this was possible to realize, with the exception of the youngest child, because the children at that time rejected their father very forcefully. Time was allowed to pass, without the boys getting outside help to facilitate contact with their father.
The father wrote in spring 2007, in his notes prior to the district court hearing on custody, residence and contact:
“The oldest son was born in the USA and all the children have lived there. The children are as much American as they are Swedish, yet they have in the past 2.5 years almost completely lost this connection, and inexplicably they now openly despise the USA and everything American. Allowing the mother to selfishly take away that aspect of their existence is as much a crime as it would be to deprive them of their Swedish heritage.”
The district court awarded the father sole custody in May 2007
The father is awarded sole custody of the parties’ children (the three children’s names and dates of birth).
The mother shall surrender the children’s U.S. passports to the father.
With the amendment of the district court’s interim decision of 9 March 2007, what is mandated under 1 also applies for the time until the district court’s judgment becomes legally binding pending appeal.
It is undeniable that since the separation in 2004 the father has only been allowed to meet his children to a very small extent, and often in the presence of a third party, or while the children are in close telephone contact with the mother. It is in view of the age of the children almost incomprehensible that it has not been possible to achieve a reasonably normal visitation between father and children. The responsibility for this rests much on the resident parent, the mother. The children today seem to have a very negative image of their father. That there would be factual basis for this has not emerged in the case. The district court cannot see any other possibility to establish the relationship between the children and the father than to award the father sole custody of the children. The district court implies that the mother, after a transition period when the relationship between father and child is established, will be given generous visitation rights.”
From the district court’s ruling:
“The mother has argued that the father is an unfit guardian. The father’s claim that the mother influences the children to reject him (parental alienation syndrome, PAS), is of course also an allegation of unfitness – at least temporarily – on her side.
For the most part it seems to be that he wants to take away her control over the children.”
A juror dissented, advocating joint custody and alternate residence. The Chairman also dissented, favoring sole custody to the mother, residence for the children with the mother, and the right of visitation for the kids with their father two hours every other weekend in the presence of a contact person designated by the social welfare department.
The district court made in its judgment several important observations that show that the majority of the district court’s members had understood that the children in this case were suffering; the district court pointed out that there was no factual basis to take the children away from their father, and that the only reason the mother had to separate the children from the father was her need for self-control over the children. This is a common feature for the parents who alienate children from the other parent.
The district court judgment was not upheld
Directly after the verdict, the mother picked the kids up from school and went underground. The father reported the missing children to the police, with no results.
On the same day of the district court’s judgment the children’s mother’s lawyer – who was a former police chief in the region – filed an appeal with the following claim:
“The mother motions that the Appeals Court, amending the district court’s judgment, grants her sole custody of the children. She further motions that the children’s passports shall not be released. These claims are to be awarded provisionally.”
The BUP /Child Psychiatric Clinic/ doctor replied that there was no indication that any of the children had ever been registered as a patient at BUP (as the mother had clamed). Even after checking and confirming with the BUP’s special unit, it was not possible to obtain confirmation of this information sent to the court by the mother’s lawyer.
Two days after the verdict the children’s mother’s lawyer returned to the appellate court with the following claim:
“The mother motions that the court of appeals immediately decide on inhibition of the district court’s judgment NNNN T-06.”
The next day the mother’s lawyer sent yet an additional request:
“The mother requests that the court of appeals interlocutory decides that the parties’ joint children shall have visitation rights with their father two hours every other week in the presence of contact persons from X (the same aid unit the mother suggested and pushed through for mediation).”
The court of appeals approved on that day, according to their protocol, to what the mother’s attorney, the former police chief, had applied for in her supplementary application, and to her appeal two days earlier, to have the district court judgment suspended (inhibition):
“The court of appeals finds that there is reason to immediately decide that the district court’s judgment will until further notice not be enforced. The court of appeals approves as a result of this the motion of provisional suspension.”
In the afternoon the same day, after this decision, the mother’s lawyer wrote in a letter to the children’s father:
“Why do you focus so much on your rights instead of trying to build a relationship with the children?”
Was it possible for the father to build up a relationship with the children when the mother withheld the children from contact with him, even after he was awarded sole custody of the children? Without any penalties and with the support of social services? It was the children’s right to have a good and close contact with their dad.
The father moved back to the U.S. in December 2007. However, after he had moved, he was accused by the children’s mother of pursuing her and the children, and was labeled a “stalker”, which the mother alleged as grounds to grant her and the children a protected address.
The father’s letter to the court of appeals before the scheduled hearing
The father wrote a long letter to the court of appeals on April 15, 2008, and I quote:
“My children are losing a war in which their basic human right to know and love both parents has been systematically, purposely and maliciously taken away from them by their mother. Moreover, no one, including the court of appeals, has worked actively to protect them.
It will soon be three and a half years of a struggle in vain. I still remember my children at the age when their mother took them from me and intensified her campaign of manipulation and alienation. In some ways, it’s as if time has stood still, and I remember them as they were in December 2004, when this hell on earth began. They were only 1, 6 and 9 back then. Now, they are 4, 9 and 12, and those happy images and memories of a life past are fading fast, perhaps as a protection mechanism or just because of the time that has elapsed. If this is true for me, it is certainly true for my boys as well. Now, I am torn between keeping a losing battle alive and finding a way to minimize the pain and “move on” with my life.
I have decided to voluntarily give up custody. My mantra in the district court, which overwhelmingly granted me sole custody in order to protect the welfare and rights of three boys, was – and still is – as follows:
First, that my three boys have the basic human right to a relationship with BOTH parents, as defined by the Geneva Convention.
Second, should the court not choose to protect the children’s rights, or should the court’s will continue to be ignored /sabotaged by the children’s mother, that her actions, behavior and the resulting harm to the children be thoroughly documented. Documentation and evidence. This is NOT a matter of opinion!
This conflict has never been about being “right” or exacting revenge, at least from my perspective. I quickly realized that keeping three children from their mother was not within my rights, or in anyone’s best interest. Depriving children a mother they love would clearly harm them; at the very least, it would create resentment against their father further down the road. It is plain as day to me: children need BOTH their parents. It’s part of who they are!”
The mother received protected identity for herself and the children
The court of appeals decided in June 2008 that the mother would have provisional sole custody. The mother applied for protected identity status for the children. This is what the mother wrote, in her application to the Swedish Taxation Office, about the protected identity status also being applicable to the children:
“To begin with, I wish to extend the protected identity status that I already have. Since I did not want to ask for protected identity status of the children earlier (due to the ongoing custody battle), nor have I been able to move, I now request protected identity status on the children. I refer to the following reasons: See previous attachment from Victim Support where my ex-husband is described by the police as a “stalker”.
We also want to feel safe in our new home. We hope that this will help contribute to live in peace and quiet. ”
The police authority in the county where the mother’s attorney, as mentioned previously, held a managerial position, endorsed the mother’s request.
The decision from the court of appeals in March 2009
The father claimed in the spring of 2009, when the appellate court hearing for a final decision approached, and more than four years after the mother suddenly separated all three children from his father, that the children should:
“be granted visitation with him, four consecutive weeks during the summer, or alternatively, three consecutive weeks during the summer and one week during the Christmas and New Year holidays.”
“objects to the claim for visitation. She has, provided the father comes to Sweden, conceded to visitation in accordance with the court of appeals interlocutory decision of July 27, 2007 (2 hours of visitation with contact persons every other weekend, my note.) but objects that visitation can occur in the United States.”
The court of appeals’ judgment was that:
“… the children should have the right to visitation with the father through either a telephone call or other form of telecommunication once a week.”
The court of appeals’ opinion referred to the following:
”It is also clear that it is essential for the children’s well-being that visitation between them and the father be carried out with the utmost care, and that the oldest boys have strongly expressed that they do not want to see their father.
It also cannot be considered compatible with the best interests of the children that a presumption for contact between the father and the sons is that the children against their will meet their father.
Given the father’s claim that the mother shall report to him about the children’s health, education, and important events and activities once a month, the court of appeals notes that it is already required of the mother as sole guardian to, according to Chapter 6. 15 § of the Parental Code, provide information about all three sons which can promote interaction between him and the children, and thus nothing of the kind should be granted in this verdict. ”
The children have not had any contact at all with their father, with the exception of one very short telephone call per week, monitored and controlled by the mother. No reports of his children’s health condition, schooling, and important events and activities have been received by the father from the children’s mother, or from the school.
The father wrote to his former lawyer in April 2010 of his lack of contact with his children:
“I cannot write to them, send packages, get school pictures etc. I have a short telephone once a week monitored by the children’s mother, and my children do not give me a single detail of how they are, as they have been instructed. It is a pitiful relationship and harmful to my children.”
The father’s wording that it harms the children to lose one of their parents, in this case their father, is supported by the available research.
These children have lost their father and all of their relatives on their father’s side in the United States, and hence half of their identity and important family roots. What has occurred implies both a violation of the child’s legal and human rights.
Comment in relation to this type of case
In this type of case the argument is used, which is also used in the case of children separated from their mother, that the child needs peace and quiet. The child that is abducted/separated from their father by their mother and therefore has lived with their mother for a longer time, is expected to do best by being left in peace and quiet with their mother, and not be forced to move from er.
In three cases, the Court has concluded that the parent, who in action demonstrated understanding of the child’s need for close and regular contact with both parents, should be granted sole custody. Reality has shown, however, that these judgments need not be complied with. Only in one case was the judgment upheld, but with continued allegations from the mother’s side and the lingering impact of turning the children against their father. In all five cases, the separating mothers revealed that they considered contact for their children and their fathers as unnecessary.
That the mother has separated the children from their home, father, relatives on their father’s side, and daycare/school is a historical fact, which has not been considered in the social services/family law judgment. This implies that the parent, who continues to disregard laws, court orders, or the child’s best interests, has been supported to alienate the other parent.
Active and consistent measures to help children to be reunited with the parent they have been separated from, in this case the father, have not occurred.
The responsibility for authorities, under applicable law and human rights conventions, is foremost to ensure that children’s needs and rights are safeguarded, even if there has been a long break in the parent-child contact, and even if there has been sexual abuse allegations that have been dropped, according to judgments by the European Court of Human Rights.10 Thus, there is a positive obligation for the authorities to act to restore family ties, an obligation that has not at all been respected.
ECHR judgment of 23 September 2003 in the case Hansen v. Turkey, see Danelius comment SvJT 2003 Page 1019, where he writes “Nor had the authorities interfered with effective measures against the father when he at various times had kept the children and sought to make it more difficult for the mother to exercise her rights of access.”
In four judgments against Norway on 11 February 2003 including O v. Norway and Hammern v. Norway, the European Court said, according to Danelius SvJT 2003 Page 599, “that Article 6.2 of the Convention applies as a general rule; a defendant is acquitted, it is no longer permissible to question his innocence.”