• Hostility to contact - case update


    Implacable hostility. A recent decision by the Court of Appeal where the court felt they had no choice but to order "no contact" despite finding that no fault lay at the fathers door.

    Re A (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 910

    This case illustrates how sometimes even the courts are unable to reverse a sad stream of events that occur after separation. A word of reassurance though,these cases are relatively rare and these outcomes are avoidable in most cases so please read through to the end of this article where we attempt to provide some positive suggestions that might help.

    The case in question involved a 12 year old boy and the issue of contact with his father.; The parents separated in 2005 (when the boy would have been only a few years old), and for the first year there was some weekly contact between the father and son for an hour or so and at that point there was reportedly a good strong attachment between them. However contact arrangements soon broke down and sadly never really resumed after that.

    Although the father made an application for contact, he withdrew that application in 2007 because of the stress that the proceedings were having on the boys mother, who the court decided had significant psychological and emotional issues connected to the idea of contact with the father.

    The father then made a further application for contact in 2010. By this time the mother held a negative view of the father whom she viewed as harmful, and the son had also adopted the same view as his mother. It took 4 years for the court to finally make a decision on this application.

    A psychologist was ordered to report to the court. The mother was assessed as having high anxiety and met the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder. The court was unable to make any findings about the mothers perceived threat of domestic violence. They could not confirm whether there was such a risk, or whether it was in the mothers mind. The assessment was however that the mother kept telling the child that the father was dangerous, resulting in the boy also developing a negative view of his father, and so the psychologist felt that even if the court ordered contact, it would not be successful. This was despite the assessment of the father being a positive one and the judge making findings that the father was caring and did not pose as a risk to his son.

    Despite the father not being held to be at fault in any way, and despite the child being found to have suffered emotional harm as a result of his mothers attitude towards the father, the court felt unable to order any direct contact. The court felt helpless given the turn of events. They described this outcome as "tragic".

    However a positive message from the Court of Appeal judge (McFarlane LJ):

    It is and should be a given that it will normally be in the best interests of a child to grow up having a full, real and entirely ordinary relationship with each of his or her parents, notwithstanding that they have separated and that there may be difficulties between the two of them as adults.

    The judge also reiterated previous case decisions making it clear that where it is in the best interest of the child to spend time with both parents (which would be the norm), then there is a duty and responsibility on the parent with whom the child lives to help meet that childs need by actively encouraging contact. This is even though that might be a hard task for that parent on an emotional level. If there are difficulties standing in the way, it falls on both parents to work together to address those difficulties.

    So, the messages are:

    • Focus on what the child needs in order to develop good healthy relationships with both parents for the rest of their lives;
    • Separate your own emotional issues or views about the other parent, from the childs emotional need to love and be loved by both parents;
    • Seek help dealing with your own emotional needs (counselling or other support);
    • Work together on overcoming any difficulties if you can, or if that is too difficult, do your bit at least to encourage contact;
    • Try and keep contact arrangements going, despite any issues that may arise between you both as adults. Even when original arrangements are not working there are often other options to consider in the short term eg: supervised or supported contact; changes to handover arrangements etc.
    • Don't delay; if parents are unable to work together for the best interests of their child, it may be that they need some help.
    • Try seeing if mediation can help. Mediation can help address any underlying problems, help parents develop a good co-parenting relationship, and improve communication.
    • If one parent is resistant even to mediation or other dispute resolution options, the next step will be to get the help of the court, but be aware that significant delay in sorting out the contact problem could make it even harder to get contact re-started.

    If you need help contact us via our online referral system: www.laceysmediation.co.uk.