The Court of Appeal has urged “warring” parents to put the needs of their children first when taking legal action over contact arrangements.
It says many parents focus too much on their rights at the expense of their duties and responsibilities towards their children.
The plea came during a case involving two parents in a seven-year dispute over contact arrangements for their daughters who are now aged 14 and 16. After the parents separated, the girls lived with their mother and stayed regularly with their father.
Following an incident at the father’s home in 2008, the mother applied to suspend his contact. An investigation by child care officers uncovered issues concerning the father’s conduct towards the girls and their negative feelings about him.
It was decided that the girls needed therapy and that the father should apologise in writing for letting them down. He agreed but was only prepared to say that he was sorry that they “felt” let down. There followed intense hostility between the parents with the mother’s conduct also attracting criticism.
The elder daughter then made sexual abuse allegations against the father during therapy. He was cleared at a fact-finding hearing but the judge said he had acted unwisely and insensitively. However, the judge also held that the mother had developed a culture within her household in which untrue and exaggerated allegations had been deliberately expressed, developed, and magnified.
Allegations and counter-allegations continued for the next two years while care professionals tried to find a solution but nothing worked.
Eventually the judge felt that the courts had tried everything to repair the family, but that no further progress could be made. He condemned the behaviour of both parents, acknowledged the girls’ fierce hostility to their father, and decided that they should be free of the burden of the litigation. He decided that contact with the father was impossible in the circumstances, and blamed the lack of progress on the “abject failure of parental responsibility” by both parents. He ended the proceedings.
The Court of Appeal upheld the judge’s decision. It held that the parents and only the parents, were responsible for the family’s situation. Warring parents too often focused on their rights and overlooked or minimised their duties and responsibilities.
The court stressed that each parent had to take full responsibility for ensuring that their children, no matter what age, had a good relationship with the other parent.
This may be an extreme case but it is not uncommon for parents to become hostile and unwilling to compromise. In such cases it is often the children who suffer the most. If parents put the needs of their children first, it is easier to reach a settlement that is in everyone’s best interests.
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