Article written by Aishat Balogun, Solicitor, Family department
The family courts have always recognised the important role that fathers play in their children’s lives. In the case of Ms C v Mr D & Ors, a Judge demonstrated this point by ordering regular contact between a man and his two young children notwithstanding that he had subjected their mother to domestic abuse in the past.
Since the parents separated after a tempestuous 12-year relationship, they had been in dispute over several matters including the education of their children, aged ten and eight, and the amount of time they spent with their father. An order was ultimately made, with the consent of both parents, for the children to spend time with their father every other weekend. The mother, however, subsequently applied to vary the order so the children would no longer stay overnight with their father. Asserting that he posed a risk to them, she cited two alleged incidents in which he was said to have caused them harm. She was not against the children having a relationship with their father but argued that they should not stay overnight with him unless they expressed a wish to do so.
Ruling on the case, the Judge noted that, during the relationship, the father had been responsible for domestic abuse against the mother, causing her emotional and physical harm. The abuse had also caused emotional harm and the risk of physical harm to the children. However, he had since undergone anti-domestic abuse and anger management courses. Whilst not minimising or disregarding the seriousness of the abuse, the Judge was satisfied that the father had not hurt either child and posed no current risk to either them or their mother.
The mother had failed to prove either that the father kicked one of the children in the stomach or that he pushed the other off a trailer, so that he ran away and hid up a tree. By undermining the father’s parental responsibility, she had damaged his relationship with the children. She had changed their schools several times without consulting him and had, consciously or unconsciously, shared her deeply negative and hostile views of him with the children.
She had called the police to check up on him, rather than airing her concerns with him as a co-parent. She failed to share with him important information concerning the children’s health, education, and welfare. She encouraged them to believe that she was the sole person in whom they could confide and that their home with her was the only safe place for them to be.
Although the children had sometimes said that they did not want to see their father, it was likely to be a result of the mother’s actions rather than their experiences with their father. The Judge was satisfied that there was a risk of harm to the children if their relationship with their father was not allowed to develop. The benefits of such a relationship outweighed any possible risk to them.
With a view to restoring the father’s parental authority, the Judge ordered that the children should have regular overnight contact with him, building up from fortnightly to become more frequent. They would stay with him for longer periods during school holidays and for up to a week during the summer. There would be no conditions attached to the contact; the father would not have to submit to alcohol or drug testing and no restriction would be placed on where he could take the children. The Judge emphasised that the contact should happen as ordered and that the children should not be asked to decide whether they wished to see their father.
For further detail on this particular case, to discuss a child arrangement order or for advice on another other family law matter, please feel free to email me or contact the department on 020 8858 6971.