A father has won a residence order for his two sons after complaining that their mother had been obstructing contact.
In RS v SS, an English man married a woman from an unspecified country in 1996. The first of their two sons, referred to as AB, was born in 1999, and the second, CD, in 2002, but the parents separated just six weeks after his birth.
Sitting in the Principal Registry of the Family Division, Judge Laura Harris noted:
“The father says that he formed a relationship with his present wife, whom the parties had both known before, about three months after the separation. The mother says that she believes that the relationship had already commenced before the separation. I make no findings on this issue, but observe that the mother appears to believe this, and this, together with the circumstances surrounding their separation when she had but recently given birth, have clearly been among the factors which, in my view, have led to the current difficulties.”
For a number of years, the father had only sporadic contact with his sons. The mother moved out of the country for a period, later returning.
By spring 2010, the mother was regularly refusing scheduled visits at the door by the mother, even after he had travelled some distance.
In July 2012, the father eventually applied for his sons to come and live with him. Judge Harris noted:
“In summary, the application said he had never had regular contact; the mother had repeatedly breached court orders; she had used financial matters as a barrier to contact; her sons were under pressure from her and were afraid of standing up to her. From the boys return to England, the difficulties continued, and he was effectively only seeing the boys in their school holidays. He complained that the boys’ school attendance was poor. He had concerns about the mother’s mental health and what he saw as signs of manic depression. He referred in his application to verbal abuse, uncontrollable rage, erratic behaviour, and the mother often sleeping through the afternoon. He also expressed concern about neglect of dental and medical needs.”
The man’s application said:
“I am applying for a residence order because I can offer stability and that is the only way the boys will have a relationship with me.”
That same month, the mother threatened the father with an injunction after he contacted her to ask about contact over the summer holidays. She also left him a series of voicemails threatening to cut off contact and leave the country and saying he would need to pay years of allegedly backdated child maintenance if he wanted to see them. These voicemails were played in court.
The mother also reportedly behaved in an overtly hostile manner towards the father at parents’ evenings.
But the mother denied many of the father’s claims, insisting that “she had always promoted contact and she had done everything to get contact going since the children were little.” She admitted to occasional anger but denied staying in bed for long periods, saying “it was in her culture to have a siesta.”
In a detailed judgement, Judge Harris considered the extensive available evidence and differing accounts. She concluded:
“I found the father to be an honest witness, and, where the parents’ evidence differed, I undoubtedly preferred his evidence to that of the mother. His frustration and distress at this long-standing situation were palpable during his oral evidence. He has been tenacious to the extent of being dogged in his pursuit of a relationship with his sons. I do not criticise him for his tenacity. Many fathers would have given up by now. He has, in my view, demonstrated far better insight into the needs of his teenage and pre-teenage boys, for example, around issues of guidance and boundaries, than the mother.”
By contrast, the mother was “a very angry and wilful woman. Her hated of the father is almost pathological.” She made claims about unpaid maintenance and funds from the sale of the former matrimonial home.
The mother had, the judged claimed: “prioritised her own needs and feelings at the expense of the needs of her children. That is not to say that she does not love her children, I have no doubt her does.”.
Judge Harris concluded:
“I am fully aware that this judgment must have been extremely painful to the mother and I have been extremely critical of her. She must understand that my primary concern is the interests of her boys….I am therefore quite satisfied that it is in these boys’ interests and their welfare requires me to transfer residence to the father, and I make an order varying the residence order in his favour.”