Court Emphasizes Child Welfare Over Parental Conflict in F v M [2023] Case

Citation: [2023] EWFC 252 (B)
Judgment on


The case of F v M [2023] EWFC 252 (B) adjudicated before Her Honour Judge Owens in The Family Court sitting at Oxford, is a complex piece of litigation involving serious allegations between separated parents, identified only as F (the father) and M (the mother), within the context of the Children Act proceedings. This article provides an analysis of the case, emphasizing the legal principles applied and their correlation with the determined outcomes.

Key Facts

The genesis of the case lies in the high-conflict parental relationship that had its proceedings initiated in 2020 concerning three children, A, B, and C. The proceedings included a breadth of allegations attributed by both parents to each other, with the appointment of a Guardian ad litem to protect the children’s interests. Her Honour Judge Owens meticulously considered a plethora of exhibits and written statements to weave through the vast number of allegations and fact-finding requirements.

Throughout the proceedings, allegations revolved around emotional and physical abuse, coercive and controlling behavior, manipulation against the other parent, neglect of children’s needs, allegations of false claims, and parental alienation. The matter of the children’s sporadic school attendance and the defiance of court-ordered arrangements were also significant.

The judgment reaffirms several established legal principles:

  1. Burden and Standard of Proof: Throughout the case, the Court applied the civil standard of proof, that an allegation is deemed true if it is more likely to happen than not, regardless of the allegation’s gravity as delineated in Miller v Ministry of Pensions [1947] 2 ALL ER 372 and Re B (Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) [2008] UKHL 35.

  2. Assessment of Evidence: The Court undertook a comprehensive overview of the evidence, as per Re A (A child) (Fact finding hearing: Speculation) [2011] ECWA Civ 12, and weighed the collective totality to arrive at conclusions without speculating beyond the presented facts.

  3. Consideration of Domestic Abuse and Coercive Control: Judge Owens utilized the principles outlined in Re H-N and others (children) (domestic abuse: finding of fact hearings) [2021] EWCA Civ 448, which incorporate definitions provided by Practice Direction 12J relating to domestic abuse, including coercive control.

  4. Parental Alienation: The concept, as discussed in Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult) [2020] EWCA Civ 568, requires a three-tier verification for establishing its occurrence. For a parent to be found engaging in alienating behaviors, it must be shown that the resident parent has directly or indirectly influenced the child against the other parent without justification.

  5. Witness Testimonies and Demeanor: Citing R v Lucas [1981] QB 720, the Court considered the honesty of witnesses and their potential motives for deception, emphasizing that lying about one aspect doesn’t conclude dishonesty in entirety.

  6. Legal Precedents on Professional Childcare Providers: The Court assessed the behavior of the children’s nanny against established expectations for professional childcare providers’ conduct, which is to remain neutral and not adversely influence children regarding parental opinions.


The outcome of the case is multifaceted, with the Court rejecting most of the harmful allegations made by each parent against the other. It has, however, been established that both parents failed to shield their children from the impacts of their conflict. Specifically for F, the Court finds a lack of proactive measures to ensure school attendance and a healthy relationship of the children with M. The Court deemed the actions of the family’s nanny as contributing negatively to the issues at hand. Crucially, the burden of proof fell short for M on allegations of coercive control and abuse against F. The court refrained from enforcing the breach of the child arrangement order, considering the child welfare implications.


In the matter of F v M [2023] EWFC 252 (B), the judicial scrutiny meticulously parsed through an extensive set of allegations and evidence, guided by immutable legal principles fundamental to child welfare and family law. The Court adopted a balanced approach in weighing the evidence provided, reaching nuanced conclusions in determining the substantive issues while setting aside unsubstantiated claims. The judgment serves as a reminder of the paramount importance of the safeguarding of children’s welfare, above parental conflicts, within family law proceedings.