A recent decision by Lord Justice Underhill in the Civil Appeal Court in London, has confirmed that a vegetarian mother can not deny her son to have contact with his father merely because she feared that during contact her son may be exposed to, or eat meat.
The woman from Bristol, who has not been named, was warned that if she continued to refuse her son to have regular contact with his father, she would lose custody of him. Prior to the hearing the boy, who is five years old, had not seen his father for a year. The mother tried to argue that by exposing him to and possibly allowing him to eat meat, the father was compromising the welfare of the child. She also accused the father of not making the child wear a seatbelt in the car and calling him by the wrong name. The mother also argued that as the boy had not seen his father for over a year, moving back to regular contact would be emotionally damaging for both the child and herself.
In response to her claims, Lord Justice Underhill recognised the acrimony between the parties, but expressed that fathers ought to have a significant role in their children’s lives if possible. The mother was told that unless she complied with the earlier Court Order, allowing her ex-partner to have regular contact at weekends and overnight stays, the boy would be taken from her care and placed with the father. Permission to appeal the earlier Contact Order was denied.
In light of this case, it raises the question of when it is appropriate to suspend contact between a child and parent. As a parent, how can you be expected to know when it is right to do so? There is no ‘right’ answer for this, but normally it will be deemed acceptable by the Court to suspend contact if the parent with care has real and genuine concerns that their child(ren)’s physical or emotional welfare is at risk. Family Courts hear cases involving suspension of contact on a very frequent basis. The Court will support the parent in their decision to suspend contact if they can argue that their concerns for the child’s welfare are genuine and significant. Sadly, it is all too often that a parent suspends contact in order to ‘punish’ their ex-partner.
The Court recognises that contact is fundamental to the building and maintaining of a positive relationship between parent and child. The Court will only prevent contact from taking place entirely in cases where there is an actual risk of harm, whether emotional or physical. Through case law, the Courts have established that parents have a responsibility to meet their child(ren)’s needs and thus encourage contact, even where their feelings toward the other parent are bitter.
Malicious suspension of contact will not be taken lightly by the Court. As in the aforementioned case, the Court may question the parent who is suspending contact’s ability to recognise the needs of the child and may threaten to remove the child from their care in response to continued suspension of contact. This is even the case where the parent with contact has failed to pay child maintenance. The Court have made certain that this is a matter which ought to be taken up with the Child Support Agency.
If you are having problems with regard to contact with your children, or unsure as to whether you should suspend contact between your child(ren) and ex-partner, the experienced family law solicitors at Farleys can help. For legal advice on child custody or Child Care Agreements, do not hesitate to contact us.