Preparing evidence for court advisors and fact finding hearings

As soon as you’re aware that your relationship is in trouble you need to start keeps 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. Courts focus on the welfare of the child, they do not yet appreciate that a parent who is manipulating a child to cutoff from a normal range/safe parent, as well as being psychological abusive to the child, is also participating in domestic abuse using the child as a weapon to hurt their ex.

The following is my suggestion for how to keep an evidence file based on my experience of supporting a friends and family through the court process. I am not a lawyer so my suggestion below is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice.

Note: The evidence pack 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. DO NOT mention “parental alienation” – many judges do not know what it is, some of them say it’s an “American thing”, others buy in to “feminist” propaganda that it is only used by dads to continue abuse of their ex partner and children. Any concerns you have should be raised in your first meeting with the court assessor.

The evidence pack is something you will need for discussion with Cafcass/court appointed assessor/expert witnesses like a Clinical 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.

You will also need it 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.

The following is an example structure for what an evidence file 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.

Evidence of good relationship with the child

One of the most important things to demonstrate in an evidence pack 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

Provide a list of people who have witnessed your parenting with the children. You can suggest that Cafcass interviews them or you can call them as witnesses in fact finding. 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.

It’s always good to ask the individuals permission first and ask if they will submit an initial signed statement.

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 patterns of behaviours that can lead to emotional harm and child psychological abuse.

You could use diagnostic criteria from a clinical psychologist such as the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting by C.A. Childress, Psy.D. or Dr Amy Baker’s 17 strategies/behaviours employed by alienating parents. You could also use criteria in the DSM 5 for child psychological abuse. Or in England you can use the typical behaviours exhibited in cases of parental alienation that is used by Cafcass (downloads) in their assessment of families.

Which ever list 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.

Whatever file structure you decide to use 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.

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, I personally advise all parents in fear of false allegations 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.

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 asshole. 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 Dr Amy Baker’s 17 strategies/behaviours employed by alienating parents as categories would be very easy to see how often a parent attempted to limit your contact with a child.

It can also be used to pick up patterns as to what were the impact on the children or you.

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. This example is completely made up for demonstration purposes.