Father wins residence of his child after court rules on abuse claims

Children|Divorce|Family Law|November 2nd 2013

The father of a now eight year-old girl won custody (a residence order) of his daughter after a court ruled that her mother’s new husband had abused her.

In Re S the mother had remarried after the parents separated. The applied for contact but while his application is in progress girl’s aunt claimed her stepfather had abused the girl. The father then applied for a ‘residence order’, specifying that she should come and live with him.

The police conducted interviews the girl, during which she claimed that the stepfather had hit her, but he denied this. The police did, however, discovered that the father had a previous conviction for indecent assault on a teenage boy.

The girl went to live with her father at his mother’s house, and the courts forbade the mother from taking her away. After she arrived, the girl said her step-father had abused her and repeated the claim to a social worker.

In court, a judge concluded that the girl’s claim was true and made a residence order in favour of the father. The mother’s new husband, the girl’s step-father, appealed the judge’s ruling that he had abused the girl. He had not been charged by the police.

At the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Ryder said the evidence before the original judge supported her conclusions. The social worker had given detailed evidence in relation to claims that the girl had been coached into making her claims and concluded that she had not been, and the judge had been quite entitled to accept this evidence.

The step-father’s appeal was dismissed.

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  1. Paul says:

    I would be more confident with the findings and appeal had a proper forensic expert provided reasoned opinion as to whether abuse had occurred. My own anecdotal experience tells me not to trust the opinion evidence of child protection professionals. They can be biased, ignorant and downright unprofessional in the way they conduct themselves. The judge hints at the latter with his comments about the pre-ABE interview. There for the grace of God go I.

  2. Oscar says:

    “Father wins custody…”

    Marilyn, why do you, a family lawyer cum expert, continue to use “custody” instead of ‘residence’ in relation to children?

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Oscar
      You are quite right and thanks for drawing it to my attention. We have actually covered the correct terminology many times on the blog. I didn’t write the story and I understand from the writer that the term was used simply because the (non qualified) writer thought it would be easier for lay people to understand. I will get it changed.

  3. Oscar says:

    Thank you, Marilyn. I am just a family law student who is keen to understand every bit about this area of law. Thank you.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Oscar
      There is no such thing as “just a law student” as I happen to think we lawyers spend our entire lives as law students and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.

  4. Andrew says:

    Marilyn: your use of the old word custody reminded me of this tale which you may enjoy but had better moderate out.

    At the time of the Woolf reforms (or changes, depending on your point of view) I was doing employment cases and was shielded from the effect; the rules there did not change till some years later. However, I had one case in the High Court and was double-booked so I asked a colleague to attend a case management conference for me, giving her full instructions including the words: Don’t forget to say Claimant and case management conference, not Plaintiff and summons for directions, or your bottom will glow bright green in the dark.

    She sent me a note of how things had gone telling me: I said Plaintiff once and my boy-friend says the effect is FANTASTIC!!

    So there we are, not sexual harassment, just vulgar two-way banter.

    But we both forgot that the file could and in the event did go before one of those eminences grises whom we used to call Taxing Masters and whom Woolf had renamed Costs Judges.

    And opposite my remark he wrote: I thought purple but no doubt you know better. And opposite hers he wrote: Delighted to hear it!


  5. Mike Cox says:

    I’ll second that, Paul. As so often, serious criminal matters are being decided in the “Family” Courts on the balance of probability, rather than the more appropriate criminal standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt. Clearly the Police had doubts as to the quality of evidence as they didn’t proceed with the matter notwithstanding the previous conviction for indecent assault. A link to the judgment would also have been helpful: http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1254.html&query=title+(+Re+)+and+title+(+s+)&method=boolean

  6. Paul says:

    I’m neither a fan of stepfathers nor of patchwork families, yet I’ll speak up for the rights of the accused man here who has been condemned as a pervert by an unfair child protection and civil court process. I wouldn’t hazard a guess either way as to his guilt or otherwise, and my comments relate only to the process of investigation which I do know something about.

    When a young child is subjected to a process of interviews by strangers, in this case three, then extraneous factors can easily intervene to mask any kernel of truth that might otherwise be revealed. The process itself becomes abusive. We see the child here complained. She might have said whatever she felt they wanted to hear to foreshorten matters. Or a child might willingly make allegations against a parent to assuage the sense of guilt felt at wanting a relationship with that parent but knowing the other parent does not approve. There is a high, high risk of that occurring in a separated family situation like the case here where allegations fly backwards and forwards. This is part of the process of child alienation. How many judges are aware of these technical problems and pitfalls or sensitised to the iniquities of alienation? Judging from the ones I’ve come across, I bet very few do. They rely on a preponderance of what might actually be phony evidence put up by these poseurs who masquerade as child protection professionals but who are often nothing more than charlatans and who are only too willing to target a man as an abuser. There is a massive chasm between best practice methods written up in official guidance and the reality of what these charlatans actually get up to on the ground. And how many barristers would know how to pick at the technical evidence when they are largely uninformed themselves? It is very, very difficult to do this. My own barrister admitted the almost impossible nature of the task when evidence by definition is so equivocal and ill-defined and so you need the forensic equivalent of an exorcist; someone who truly does understand the arcane as well as the more prosaic aspects of human behaviour.

    Professional practice can be grossly and hideously abusive in its own right. In my own case, what was described as “Best Evidence” in both police and social services reports, was exposed as nothing of the kind. In the inevitable complaint that followed, police squirmed their way out by preposterously claiming it was purely “wishes and feelings” work yet they abused state power to separate my child from me and the social worker expected me to be arrested and charged. Arrested for doing absolutely nothing.

    What passes for child protection investigation is as scandalous and outrageous as all the other abuses we now see going on. I was ambushed with an uncautioned interview in which lies were told and entrapment methods used, with all kinds of intimate accusations and Alice-in-Wonderland suggestions made around sexual abuse of a child and attempted rape of his mother. No parent should ever take the word of one of these people at face value. Not ever. Challenge everything.

  7. J says:

    Balance of probability is the problem here, I have been repeatedly accused by the mother of my children of domestic abuse and harassment yet none has occurred and to the contrary she has hit me, stalked, followed, photographed, defamed me some 50 odd times with impunity, breached 5 orders more than 30 times yet I am the one who has to justify why I’m am worthy to have unsupervised and staying contact with my children. The first issue here and its alluded to that authorities dont act above reproach.
    The fact is this is another case where a clearly worthy father has had to fight for his children however I believe that people should not be condemned as abusers of any kind without firm indisputable evidence. It is as bad as making judgements in the opposite regard and equally unsafe.

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