High Court Addresses Parental Alienation and Exceptional Circumstances in Child Contact Case

Citation: [2024] EWHC 59 (Fam)
Judgment on


The case of Re T (A Child) (s9(6) Children Act 1989 orders: Exceptional Circumstances: Parental Alienation) [2024] EWHC 59 (Fam) examines critical issues surrounding child arrangements following parental separation. This article provides a detailed analysis of the High Court’s application of legal principles under the Children Act 1989, with a particular focus on exceptional circumstances and parental alienation.

Key Facts

The long-running and complex dispute involves the strained contact between a father and his children, predominantly T, a 15-year-old boy. The mother is accused of alienating the children from the father, a contention supported by findings in previous proceedings. Mrs. Justice Arbuthnot’s judgment acknowledges the pro bono representation of both parties and reiterates findings of the mother’s intransigence and the father’s absence of psychopathology. The court faces a decision on whether T’s contact with his father should continue despite T’s expressed wishes and the history of the mother undermining contact.

The judgment of Mrs. Justice Arbuthnot utilizes several core legal principles, significant among which are:

  1. Children Act 1989, s9(6): Consideration of whether an order for contact should continue post the age of 16, which requires exceptional circumstances. Traditionally, this has been interpreted to mean cases where a child’s maturity, cognitive, or learning difficulties necessitate continued court-ordered contact.

  2. Best Interests of the Child: The child’s welfare remains the court’s paramount consideration, as set out in s1 of the Children Act 1989. In determining the child’s best interests, the judge considers the child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings as one factor among several, including emotional needs.

  3. Parental Alienation: Where one parent manipulates a child to create unjustified resistance or hostility towards the other parent, courts may consider this as emotional abuse impacting the child’s welfare.

  4. Rule of Law and Fairness: The court’s role in ensuring a fair process, inclusive of legal representation, even in scenarios of self-representation, and acknowledging the significance of previously established facts and findings.

  5. Non-intervention Principle: Acknowledging the limited powers of the court, especially with elder children who can exercise increased autonomy over their decisions once they approach the age of 16.

  6. Privacy and Anonymity in Judgments: The balance between privacy rights and the public interest in transparency in the family justice system.


The court determined it was in T’s best interest to continue contact with his father up until the age of 16, but not beyond, to respect T’s maturity and autonomy. Mid-week contact was ceased with the understanding that it interfered with T’s studies, and a provision was added for the father to be involved in T’s rowing activities. Importantly, the court recognized the mother’s persistent and detrimental influence on the children’s perception of their father but acknowledged its limited capacity to enforce contact against a child’s strong wishes.


The decision in Re T (A Child) underscores the intricate balance courts must maintain in protecting children’s welfare while considering their growing autonomy. It reflects the challenges inherent in cases where parental alienation is a factor. This case reaffirms that the child’s best interests are paramount, and that a child’s expressed wishes become more influential as they approach adulthood. It also illustrates the judiciary’s limitations in rectifying parental alienation, especially as children grow older and the principle of non-intervention gains greater emphasis. The tensions between upholding past factual findings, respecting the child’s autonomy, and ensuring their welfare creates a complex legal landscape that courts navigate with precision. The potential publication of the judgment upon T reaching 18 highlights the ongoing debate between transparency in the justice system and the privacy rights of individuals.