It’s not often that new family law judgments appear on Bailii on a Saturday, but this weekend we had four, three of which related to the same, sad, case.
The case concerned three children, a boy aged 12, a girl aged 9 and another boy aged 7½. Their parents had married in 1999, but after some twenty years the marriage broke down and the parents finally separated in October 2012, when the father left the former matrimonial home.
Since the separation the family has been continuously involved in court proceedings of various types including divorce, contested financial remedy [maintenance] proceedings, a non-molestation order against the father and, above all, proceedings relating to the arrangements for the children. A contact order was made in October 2012. The father subsequently applied for a shared residence order and to increase the amount of contact he was having with the children, and the mother applied both to vary the contact and to enforce the contact order in relation to the times the children were returned, telephone contact and other “inappropriate behaviour”.
The three judgments all relate to the recent proceedings concerning the children.
The first judgment related to a fact-finding hearing last June. It is a huge judgment, running to 258 paragraphs, in which the judge had to make findings regarding no fewer than fifty-two allegations of domestic abuse and abuse of the children, made by each of the parents against the other. Obviously, there isn’t room here to go into detail, but in summary the judge made 22 findings in respect of the mother’s 32 allegations, and no findings in respect of the father’s allegations.
The father sought to appeal against the findings, but his application for permission to appeal was refused by the Court of Appeal.
The second judgment concerned an application by the father for an order making the children parties to the proceedings and appointing a guardian to represent them. Essentially, the reason for the application was that the father did not consider that the Cafcass officer had adequately taken the children’s wishes into account. The application was heard last October by Judge Levy, the same judge as the first hearing. She did not consider that the children should be made parties or that a guardian should be appointed for them. Accordingly, she dismissed the application.
The third judgment concerned the final hearing relating to the residence/contact dispute in January this year, also dealt with by Her Honour Judge Levy. Again, it is a very substantial judgment, running to 264 paragraphs. I do not propose to summarise it at all, save to say that (hopefully) final orders were made in respect of residence and contact. What I do want to point out, however, is what Judge Levy said in the 235th paragraph of her judgment:
“This has been a difficult case, marked by parental acrimony which is due largely to the past, recent and current behaviour of the father. I do not doubt that, as in most cases, there will have been faults on both sides, but here there are serious findings and other concerns about the father which he does not acknowledge. He seeks instead to criticise the mother and blames the family court system and everyone else involved in proceedings in which he is the applicant. The system is far from perfect, as current reforms acknowledge, but the father is an intelligent, educated man who has chosen an approach which has exacerbated an already difficult situation.”
All family lawyers have come across cases like this where one or both of the parents behave in a manner that is not conducive towards sorting out arrangements for children in a reasonable fashion. They then blame everyone else when the court, almost inevitably, finds against them.
The real tragedy, though, is the effect that all of this contested litigation can have upon the children involved.