John Bolch on a sad but all too familiar tale

Family|March 31st 2014

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.

Photo by Horia Varlan via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence 

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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  1. Paul says:

    Blame the father, as usual. It’s always his fault.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    All seems par for the course to me. Man shafted, made to look a loony because he dared to attribute blame to the woman and question the family courts.

    Here’s an extract from the Erin Pizzey blog:

    “Men faced with a problem want to ‘do’ something. They are used to voicing their disapproval or dislike of situations that seem to them to be unfair. Faced with prejudiced accusations from agency people a man will roundly defend himself – big mistake. Agency workers do not like to be challenged. He does not realise that the moment he raises his voice or even makes a statement that contradicts the agency person he will be deemed ‘controlling.’ This label will be hung around his neck as he is passed from one agency to another”

    Here’s another one from a bloke named Burke???

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”

  3. JamesB says:

    It is very bad that an application for shared residence should be ‘almost inevitably’ rejected.

    On the face of it this judgement reminds me of The Two Ronnies sketch and critique on the rise of women.


  4. JamesB says:

    It is very bad that an application for shared residence should be ‘almost inevitably’ rejected.

    That is my serious point.

    The two ronnies, well, I posted the link as a bit of tongue in cheek and I did not mean to upset anyone. I wish all well and world peace and less of this sad arguing, I agree with John on that, although I am not convinced he wants less of it as then there would be less work for lawyers.

    I wish the woman, man, and children in question well also. This subject does my head in and needs to be done less. I am an optimist and think this type of case is less common.

    I think the courts are progressing. I mean, at least it is about the amount of contact now. Ten years ago it would have been about if he got to see them at all.

    Hopefully in ten years time applications for shared residence should not be ‘almost inevitably’ rejected. I know it may not help in this case, but I am positive and think the family courts are slowly moving to see that fathers are actually not bad.

  5. JamesB says:

    As I said though, this subject does my head in. Like the judge laying into the father for trying to see his children. Thinking too much on it drives me mad. I think it no wonder when judges get mad faced with this sort of thing. There is a story in the bible about the judgement of Solamon on the same subject. His judgement was to tear the child in two – then the true mother offered to give up her half to stop that.

    I think Stitchedup was better than me on this thread. As he says, I want to make things better but it kind of hurt my head as to how. I do not think calling shared residence a bad thing as the judge and Mr Bolch seem to have is right though and that is my point. I think I have made it a few times now so will leave it there and hope it will change and there will be less of this arguing. Bearing in mind soloman was a while ago, perhaps it is a forlorne hope, but as stitchedup rightly says, it is a good attribute of men and women when we try and stop unfairness. I’m off now to find something for my aching head, I think too much sometimes, like this afternoon, it hurts. Still it looks wrong to me. John calls it sad, well, it doesn’t look good, I agree with him on that. I suppose courts are for when things are not good. I prefer them to the csa on this subject. Like with solomon, they can make judgements to help. Calling shared residence bad names is not a good judgement by the judge in question.

  6. JamesB says:

    Most important on this is that neither parent bad mouth the other. Children shouldn’t have to grow up in a war zone and the Judge and John’s rhetoric don’t help calm the matter which is what is needed. Perhaps something like ‘shared residence is a good starting point, but not appropriate in this case for the following reasons …’ I think is better than ‘shared residence should be ‘almost inevitably’ rejected’. Having shared residence as a starting point is fair and good and saying anything else is not good.

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