Suspended residence order – how is it used and why?

What is a suspended residence order and under what circumstances might a court decide to use one?

Parental alienation is always a concern held by parents who have separated and are having difficulties in agreeing arrangements for the children with their now ex-partner. There is always a risk that the children will see and hear things which may influence their opinion about each parent and whether they want to (or should) be having contact with each parent.

R (Parental alienation and suspended transfer of residence) is a recently reported case which concerned an application by a father for contact with his two children. At the time of the application the children were aged 11 and 10 and resided with their mother. Both parties had been litigating about arrangements for the children on and off for much of the children’s lives. However, up until 2017 the children had regular contact with their father. This was until issues arose and required the father to make another application to the Court.

The father’s case was as follows:

  1. That the mother had deliberately abrogated the father’s parental responsibility and/or made unilateral decisions regarding the children’s surname, health and education, without consultation or consent of the father or Court Order.
  2. That the mother was an unreliable and/or false reporter and had recruited, manipulated, split and/or misled professionals, and had not been able to follow the recommendations of professionals, over the years, as it related to the children’s need to have a relationship with their father, thereby causing them emotional harm.
  3. That the mother had alienated the children from the father as a result of having either consciously, or subconsciously, encouraged and placed emotional pressure on them to present as not wishing to have contact with the father. Further, she had overtly encouraged them to assert and believe that they did not have a good time with their father in order to further her cause to remove the father from their lives.
  4. That the mother, as a result of her behaviour, had encouraged, or permitted to develop, an ‘enmeshed relationship’ between the children and herself which had caused, and was continuing to cause, the children significant or other emotional harm.

In all cases relating to children the court has a number of “tools” it can use to try and resolve the issues and avoid parties coming back for further litigation. One such “tool” is to transfer the residence of the children from the ‘alienating’ parent to the other parent in order to protect the relationship which is being damaged and avoid the children being “poisoned” any further. However, a full on transfer of residence may not always be possible and even if it is, it can be fraught difficulty.

Instead, another “tool” at the court’s disposal is to make a suspended residence order and this is what happened in the above case. In other words, if one parent does not comply with the court’s order (in this case the mother) for contact then the residence order would be implemented and the children would go to live with their father. Suspended residence orders are seen as a last ditch attempt to make each parent comply with the court order and ensure that the children are able to develop their own individual relationships with each parent, free of any possible alienation.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Ipswich Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email