The case of Re: C (a child)  EWHC 557 (FAM) illustrates the Court’s “ultimate” remedy in a private law dispute between mother and father where one parent steadfastly opposes the progress of contact as provided for by the Court.
This was a case concerning a child who is now aged 6. She was born in March 2012 and lived with her mother until 14th December 2017. The litigation regarding her, however, had taken up all but 13 months of her life. There had been 5 separate applications under the Children Act 1989, 4 appeals and over 50 Court hearings.
This case involved an appeal from a decision of His Honour Judge Wood sitting in the Family Court. As long ago as September 2014, a Family Court Adviser had observed that contact between the father and the child was positive, but the mother was wholly opposed to any normal progression of contact.
In subsequent proceedings, in September 2016, the Court had set out a pattern of contact between the father and child, and given the difficulties, the Court also made a Family Assistance Order so that CAFCASS remained involved. Still the Family Court Adviser informed the Court that the mother was not engaging with that Order.
By July 2017, CAFCASS had reported that overnight contact between the father and child had not progressed because the mother fundamentally did not want this to happen. The position of CAFCASS was that if the mother would not now take a last opportunity to demonstrate an ability to comply with the Court Order, then it would support the Court making an order that the child should move to live with her father.
At a hearing on the 28th and 29th November 2017 evidence was heard from both parents and from the children’s Guardian (the child having been joined as a party to the proceedings).
The Judge reviewed the history of the litigation and considered the evidence. He noted that the only determining factor for the child was what was in the best interests of her welfare which should take precedence over all other considerations. He observed that the child should enjoy and benefit from a relationship with both of her parents. There were no safeguarding concerns to suggest that limitations of any sort should be placed around a relationship with the father who was a respectable hard working man. The child should be able to enjoy family time with each parent.
That led the Judge to ask himself why that had not been happening in respect of the father. Amongst other things, the Judge found that the mother had a “deeply engrained hostility to the father and his family” and, though she had eventually accepted the need for contact, it had to be on her terms. She was wholly opposed to overnight contact or to the child going on holiday with her father.
Having made those and other findings, the Judge then considered how he could progress matters and in particular focused on two options, whether to give the mother another chance to comply with the decision of the court or to move the child to live with her father. The Judge concluded that it was clearly in the child’s best interests to move to live with her father. The mother sought to appeal against this decision, but was refused permission to do so.
Parents would do well to bear in mind this possibility when one or other of them fails to abide by a Court Order of this nature.
If you are involved in a dispute with your ex-partner over child arrangements, it is vital that you speak with a solicitor at the earliest opportunity. Farleys’ family law solicitors can advise you on a range of child matters including custody disputes, child maintenance agreements, adoption and social services cases. Call the team on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online enquiry form.