Father faces further delay in 12 year-old contact case despite High Court victory

Children|Divorce|Family Law|December 9th 2013

A father who has been struggling to see his daughter for the last 12 years faces further delay after a judge adjourned proceedings until February.

The unnamed father won a High Court victory in September, when Lord Justice McFarlane overturned a ruling limiting him to indirect contact via email and presents with his 14 year-old daughter, called ‘M’ in case reports. The earlier judge had not fully analysed the girl’s wishes, said the Lord Justice, and the father’s application for residence and contact should be reheard.

He noted that litigation between the M’s parents had continued “almost without interruption” since October 2001, a few months after their separation.

Since 2006 alone there have been no fewer than eighty-two court orders. At least seven judges have been involved in the case at one stage or another and over ten CAFCASS officers have played a part, initially as report writers and, latterly, as M’s children’s guardian.”

The father was, said Lord Justice McFarlane, “unimpeachable” with no “adverse findings” made against him at any stage, while the mother was “implacably opposed to contact”.

He quoted a child psychologist’s comments on her:

“The mother appears to want an unhealthy exclusive relationship with M. The mother hides her opposition to contact behind her daughter’s stated “wishes and feelings”. She is an intelligent person and…may well know exactly what she is doing.”

The extreme length of the case and multiple legal delays had, ruled the Lord Justice, violated the rights of the man and his daughter to respect for family life, under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case returned to the family courts in Leeds last month, but quickly stalled on the issue of which child psychologists should be consulted.

Speaking to the Mail,  the father claimed to have spent around £100,000 in legal fees. He said:

“Speaking after the latest hearing at the family court in Leeds, he said: ‘As a parent, one’s frustration lies with the lassitude of the court process that allows precious, irreplaceable time with your children to slip away, and the relationship you seek to have with them dissolve into the mists of time.”

He added:

“Time with your children can never be recaptured – it is lost for ever.”

This is clearly a very sad case and which will be made much of by those who believe the family courts do not always give fathers a fair hearing.

It is also a very complex case and it is worth recalling that contrary to some media reports, the family courts do have the power to enforce orders for contact. The parents in breach may be fined, required to do unpaid work, or to compensate the other parent for any losses they have incurred due to the breach – for example, having to cancel planned holidays. Remedies available to the courts for more serious breaches include transferring residence – i.e. sending the child to live with the other parent  – or even sending the recalcitrant parent to prison. But for such options of last resort, the welfare and best interests of the children involved would have to be very carefully considered.

Cases like these make for attention-grabbing headlines, but it is also worth recalling that “implacably hostile” parents, those who seem to ready to go almost any lengths to exclude their former partners, are in reality a “small minority” of the nation’s divorced and separated mums and dads.

And of course, it is always the children who really lose out. Whatever the parents’ difficulties, M deserved to enjoy a happy relationship with her father. Instead, to quote Lord Justice Aikens, her childhood “has been irredeemably marred by years of litigation,” and she will have to live with the legacy of that for the rest of her life.

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  1. Paul says:

    I take issue with the penultimate para. A substantial proportion of private law disputes revolve around mothers who obstruct a child’s relationship with its father, whether overtly or by more subtle means. How many times have you heard these words uttered as a standard refrain:”I am happy for contact to take place as long as the child wants to go”. That’s doublespeak for alienation in progress. Of course the child doesn’t want to go, or shows resistance or is only happy for a couple of hours once a week because the father is too overbearing etc etc. And how many times have the courts payed their slavish respects to these “wishes n’ feelings” such that the father is gradually excluded? When you are a minority parent, it is hard to fight your corner when the system of family justice itself denies your problem.

    Two points: first, contrary to what is suggested here, implacable hostility and its milder derivatives are a common feature of private law cases and are not rare; second, of the supposed zillions of presumed happy parents who choose not to go to court, we do not know the number of fathers who give up because they are daunted by the prospect of entering an arena where the cards are stacked against them.

    If you don’t monitor the problems of inter-parental strife, then how can you come up with solutions? The answer from apologists of the system, predictably, is to pretend the problems of alienation and implacable hostility either do not exist at all, as the feminist social policy professors would have us believe or, as we see here, is of only inconsequential magnitude and can thus safely be ignored anyway.

  2. Adrian Bathurst says:

    This goes on & on everyday. The system stinks. Women are allowed to lie, manipulate and blackmail emotionally innocent children. Fathers have no rights. The courts are not intrested in resolving matters. Because the system makes BILLIONS of pounds from it. Perhaps one day a judge will grow some ***s and convict & imprison a women publicly for deciept, obstruction, child abuse, wasting public money court & police.
    Until then this country will continue the slide into debortuary and oblivion. Lives of fathers, grand parents, friends, relations and even their childrens friends are destroyed by individual evil, vendictive manipulative women.
    These saga’s cost this country Billions in mental health support, which is useless. Ive been told to accept my children are DEAD. Really! Hospital care. Doctors. Medication. Welfare benefit. Lives destroyed. Oh i could tell you stories that would make you cry scream and curl your hair.

  3. Yvie says:

    They would be quick enough to penalise a father, take away his driving licence, force the sale of his home, and even put him in prison if he failed to come up with his child maintenance payments. That a father may be more than willing to pay, but perhaps is unable to meet his financial obligations, cuts no ice with the CSA.

  4. tom says:

    marilyn is well aware of the real problem, as described by the three previous contributors, but there are many who ply their trade at the expense of ruined children’s lives and the damaged adults they become before often repeating the cycle with their own children


  5. Paul says:

    Various judges ought to have ordered the court tipstaff to attend the mother’s house along with the police if necessary, to collect the child and dump her with her father, for better or worse, and done this six, seven, eight or nine years ago. The mother could have had contact once a fortnight but only when she’d proved herself safe.

    Reverse the parties. Imagine all the signs – mental disorder, drugs, alcohol, propensity for extreme alienation – that were presented by this mother, being found in the father. Lord Munby or his predecessors would have happily taken over the case and sent the father to prison.

    This whole saga comes across as UK family law Mickey Mouse-style.

  6. george says:

    I also disagree with the article writer in that many cases in the family court play out the same scenario. It might be that most mothers do actually begrudgingly comply with court orders to allow contact especially if it is only for marginal amounts of time.
    Many judges seeing the implacable hostility before them will allow fathers as little contact as necessary to placate the mother. They reason if the mother is hostile then she is likely to block contact with all manner of allegations and excuses, which the court will have to investigate and disprove. And if disproved then the judge will be forced to attach penal notices and threaten jail.

    If a mother was clever enough and determined enough to string out not allowing contact up to the age of 14 then she is home and dry with only 2 more years left for the court to have jurisdiction then the courts usually turn their backs on the case.

  7. Paul says:

    And then people get all aghast at fathers who occasionally explode into violence in the courtroom. Oh, and there’s always an instant solution to that, isn’t there? as off he goes to jail.

  8. Malcolm Lochhead says:

    We are always told that the courts have the power to enforce orders. And yet we never hear of them actually doing so.

    Can you explain why, if the courts CAN enforce orders, they would FAIL to do so in this case – which concerns a father the court considers “unimpeachable”? For TWELVE YEARS.

    Is this not, in fact, clear evidence that courts do NOT give fathers a fair hearing? This is FAR from an unusual case. It is a typical example of how courts dance to the mother’s tune regardless of the circumstances of the case.

    If courts DO enforce orders, as you claim – why not publish some examples? I have heard of only a very few such cases in all the time I have been associated with this area of law.

    You claim “The parents in breach may be fined, required to do unpaid work, or to compensate the other parent for any losses they have incurred due to the breach”

    I have NEVER heard of this happening. Can you provide an example?

    You claim this is a very complex case, without explaining why. On the face of it, and according to the judge and CAFCASS, it is very simple. The father wants and deserves contact, the mother refuses, the courts do nothing. Where exactly is the complexity?

    As for your last comment “it is always the children who really lose out” that is also utterly typical of the empathy vacuum in which separated fathers exist within the family law system. Fathers can be utterly broken by the loss of their children. It is NOT just the children who “really lose out”.

  9. Nick Langford says:

    There was a report by Liz Trinder this year evaluating the sanctions the courts have for enforcement of orders. Reading between the lines (Trinder is implacably opposed to fathers having contact) it confirmed what we all know: most contact orders are sought by fathers, the response of the courts to breached orders is usually to make another order for less contact, the courts don’t use tools like full Section 7 reports and fact finding hearings; and they don’t use the sanctions they have for enforcement. Enforcement orders are rare – about 50 a year – and are certainly inadequate to dispel the impression that there is little point in fathers applying for contact or applying for enforcement. I think we all know what will be the ultimate outcome in this case: another child doomed to go through life without a father and a strong message sent to mothers that if they want to block contact they can do so with impunity.

  10. Luke says:

    “This is clearly a very sad case and which will be made much of by those who believe the family courts do not always give fathers a fair hearing.”

    Yes indeed, because after 12 years, eighty-two court orders, seven judges & £100,000 in legal fees the father still does not have access to his daughter and that is a scandal. This case and other less extreme cases like it show that the failure of Family Court when it comes to Contact Orders is systemic and indefensible.

    This problem could have been solved very simply 11 years and 9 months ago – the court should have said to the mother after 3 months of ignoring the court orders that if she failed to provide contact again she would go to gaol for a week and she would lose residency.
    Game Over, I bet she would have immediately complied – and if she didn’t then she would be the one applying for contact.

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