Preparing Evidence for Fact Finding Hearings

As soon as you’re aware that your relationship is in trouble you need to start compiling records just in case you need them. If you had a coercive and controlling partner that restricted how you could parent during the relationship, it’s likely they will try to control how you can parent when the relationship ends. Keeping an evidence file throughout the entire process may prove useful if it goes to court. It will help to identify patterns, key events and the impacts on the child.

A cautionary note: Courts are supposed to focus on the welfare of the child. Judges and family court advisors are supposed to be trained in child psychological abuse but in reality it’s hit and miss as to what level of training those working on your case will have had or how well they have understood it. Using the term “parental alienation” or technical psychological terms may like “emotional cutoff” whilst being recognised in UK law/Cafcass frameworks and psychology may annoy judges and family court advisors because:

  • They are genuinely worried that by stating your concerns you are in fact the abusive parent/family member seeking to imply the other parent has mental health issues and unjustly remove the children from their care.
  • They experience a level of narcissistic injury if your level of knowledge shows a gap in theirs despite them having worked with children for umpteen years.
  • Some incorrectly believe it’s an “American thing” when it is in fact a global epidemic the dynamics of which have been well documented in psychology for decades and others buy in to propaganda by “feminists” or “women’s rights groups” that it is only used by dads to continue abuse of their ex partner and children when in fact it is a form of domestic abuse by proxy used against both mums and dads.

In normal circumstances showing you have knowledge of a subject is good thing but in family court its a gamble because you don’t know what kind of judge of family court advisor you’re going to get. Sticking to the behaviours that concern you may be the safest option.

The evidence pack (bundle) is not something you should take to the first hearing with the judge. Judges want to see how parents are working together not that they are “prepared for war”. The first hearing is just a discussion, to get a sense of what is going on and for them to decide next steps. You can briefly raise your concerns around not being able to maintain a relationship with your child and the emotional impact it will be having on them.

The evidence pack (bundle) is something you will need for discussion with Cafcass/court appointed assessor/expert witnesses like a Psychologists. They will be asked to prepare a report on the family and the situation the child finds themselves in as a result of family breakdown. You will need to show them evidence of what has been going on and your concerns. Court assessors/Cafcass are key to making recommendations for your child and the judge’s in lower courts usually always go with whatever they recommend. Again a note of caution: Stick to your concerns for the child, do not be too negative about your ex. there are some things your ex does well, don’t forget to mention those. Families going through emotional cutoff require a proper assessment, unfortunately, family court advisors are often a barrier to this. All they give you is 45 minutes to an hour to state your case. In that time they will be making judgements about you and what you say which will be read by a judge – even if they are not qualified to do so. So tread carefully.

You will also need an evidence file if the judge orders fact finding. This is where each side gets to present their case, submit allegations, submit evidence, question witnesses etc. On the basis of the evidence they see or hear a judge will decide what they believe to be true. If allegations made against you are false you must highlight where little or zero evidence is produced. You can point to evidence in the pack to contradict statements made by your ex e.g. if your ex says that you never do anything fun with the child you can show pictures of you doing fun activities, if the ex says you do not feed the child you can show pictures of you out at a restaurant with the child etc.

Court assessors/Cafcass will also perform a background check on both parents to determine if there is any recorded safeguarding risk to the child e.g. police check, social services involvement etc. Any evidence of this should be included in their reports. Again if there is no evidence of safeguarding risk you need to point this out to the judge. There is no reason to block physical contact with a child where there is no safeguarding risk.

Preparing the Evidence Pack

The following is an example structure for what an evidence pack (bundle) could include:

  • Evidence of your good relationship with your child before contact was restricted.
  • A brief timeline of events.
  • Categorised evidence to demonstrate your concerns.
  • Witness statements.

If the Judge asks you to prepare a formal bundle it will also need to include Cafcass reports and statements made by both parties.

Evidence of good relationship with the child

One of the most important things to demonstrate in an evidence pack (bundle) is the good relationship you had with your child before the relationship ended and contact was restricted. Evidence may include:

  • Photographs of the loving relationship you had with the child, the fun things you did with them and the care you took.
  • Cards the child sent you.
  • Notes and pictures the child made for you.

These will show there was a time when the child loved you and was not afraid of spending time with you.

Witness statements

Witnesses should be someone who:

  • directly witnessed something you want the court to know about.
  • is willing to write a signed statement to the court.
  • you think is believable and consistent.
  • is unlikely to take sides in case and.
  • will be prepared to attend court in person if required. The other side may want to ask them questions/challenge their statement.

Whilst it’s nice to have the support of family members and friends, and they can make valuable witnesses, courts will value input of people who are child service providers more e.g. teachers, group leaders, teaching assistants, social workers etc.

The witness may be someone you want to suggest that Cafcass interviews as part of their investigations but there is no requirement for them to do so.

You will need to ask the court’s permission for them to submit a witness statement. If they give permission it needs to be a signed statement in a specific format. They can include evidence.

If the person witnessing cannot read/write in English you will need to get the statement notarised by a solicitor/court staff.

They must be submitted to the court, the other party and Cafcass if they are involved. They should be included in your bundle of evidence submitted to the court before the required hearing.

Note: Even if you submit a witness statement, the judge can choose to ignore it as part of their decision making.

Categorised Evidence

You will need to decide what type of structure you want for your evidence file to demonstrate concerns that your child is being subjected to a pattern of behaviours that can lead to emotional harm and child psychological abuse.

The file should have a list of all the evidence included within it at the start with a reference number for the particular item of evidence and a page number. Like a contents page at the start of a book.

You could organise the file into sub categories. For example, you could use Cafcass’ list of typical behaviours exhibited in cases of parental alienation that is used by Cafcass England (downloads) in their assessment of families as sub categories for your evidence. You could also divide your evidence by diagnostic criteria such as the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting by C.A. Childress, Psy.D. or you could focus on the 17 Parental Alienation Strategies.

Which ever you use you just need to get a lever arch file and a set of dividers. Each divider represents a category/criteria on the list. For example, if you wanted to use Amy Bakers 17 strategies/behaviours of alienating parents you would have a set of 17 dividers, one divider for each alienating strategy e.g. one for limiting contact, one for interfering with communication, one for telling the child you don’t love them etc.

You can then insert each piece of evidence into the appropriate divided section.

You will need to make it easy for a judge, court investigator, yourself or lawyer to find specific pieces. You might want to think about plastic pockets for each piece of evidence and giving each piece of evidence a unique reference number that goes in number order. For example, in section 1 “limiting contact” you may have 3 pieces of evidence, 2 text messages and a letter. The text messages are labelled S1-1 and S1-2, the letter S1-3 (S1 indicates it is in section 1). The reference number and section can also be used in your timeline to make it easy to work out what evidence relates to which event on your timeline.

If you find that most of your single pieces of evidence can be used to support multiple categories you may want to consider just having a single file with no categories/dividers. It’s really up to you what structure you think would be easier to help find the information needed quickly.

Evidence can include:

  • Photographs.
  • Text messages.
  • Screenshots of social media posts.
  • Letters.
  • Cards.
  • Notes.
  • Pictures.
  • Bank statements.
  • Police reports.
  • Medical records.
  • Subject access requests.
  • Video*
  • Voice recordings*

* For protection, parents in fear of false allegations may want to record key interactions with their ex or children, such as pick ups and drop offs, or when a child is getting upset. Judges take a dim view of covert recordings but they can prove invaluable to refute false allegations or to show patterns of behaviour e.g. your ex denigrating you at the door step when you pick up the children. If you want to use recorded evidence you may want to consider legal advice. The alternative is to take a witness with you but be prepared for alienating parents to denigrate you for this and to claim this made them feel intimidated.

Note: Whatever evidence you submit is disclosable to the other party and can be used in evidence against you.

Timeline of Events

A timeline of events is always useful to give people a history of your case and to be able to demonstrate patterns of behaviour that impact on your child and their relationship with you.

The timeline of events should be brief and factual. No emotion in it at all. The judge is not going to want to wade through hundreds of pages of your opinions or feelings. However, if there is something significant that happened you might want to record a bit more detail to act as a sort of witness statement from you e.g. if your child was angry with you and shouted that “You abandoned me when I was 9 months old. You’re an a***hole. You’re not my dad, mummy was right you’re an evil monster”

If you categorise your timeline it will help the reader to pick up patterns of behaviour. For example, using 17 Parental Alienation Strategies as a category would be easy to demonstrate how often a parent attempted to limit your contact with a child. Alternatively, or as well as, you can use Cafcass’ list of typical behaviours exhibited in cases of parental alienation that is used by Cafcass England (downloads) or the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting by C.A. Childress, Psy.D. 

You could also reference an item of evidence in the timeline so it makes it clear which piece of evidence relates to the event in the timeline line. This should make it easy for you and others to find when you need it e.g. showing it to the court investigator or a judge in a fact finding session. See this example of a timeline of events. The example is completely made up for demonstration purposes only. It only contains a handful of lines, it doesn’t demonstrate the full history of a case showing how a child goes from loving and missing their parent to hating them and refusing contact. Each case is different and the information in your timeline will represent your own family’s journey.

You can also add a column to highlight all the times when the alienating parent may have:

  • ignored advice from professionals
  • misrepresented information to professionals
  • used coercive and controlling behaviours or
  • been violent.