I wanted to say something about the judgment of Mrs Justice Pauffley in Re L And M (Children: Private Law). Well, not so much about the judgment itself, in the sense of the decision that she made in the case. Rather, I wanted to point out what she said at the beginning and at the end of the judgment.
First, just a little background to the case. The parents married in 2000 and have two children, a boy who is nearly 13 years old and a girl aged 9. In 2004 the family moved to the father’s home country of Israel. The marriage broke down and the parents finally separated in 2007. It was eventually agreed in January 2010 that the mother and children would relocate to England, the mother’s home country.
It was also agreed that the father would have extensive indirect contact with the children, as well as staying contact on three occasions each year in Israel. In fact, very little contact took place and early in 2012 the father issued proceedings, seeking to re-establish a relationship with the children, including direct contact.
In November 2012 the court made a direction for family assessment by a consultant family therapist. His report of the 1st of March 2013 recommended a ‘coordinated therapeutic programme’, and in May 2013 Mrs Justice Pauffley agreed to a course of counselling and therapy as suggested by the parties. In the event, this did not go ahead, due to lack of funds.
The matter eventually came before Mrs Justice Pauffley for hearing on the 24th to 26th of March this year. She began her judgment with the following:
“There were several good reasons for arranging a three day hearing in these private law proceedings. First, to determine why, over so many years, there have been problems in achieving good quality or indeed any contact between the children and their father. Second, to establish whether there is a feasible way through the apparent deadlock between the two conflicting sides. And third to consider whether the time is right to make final orders so as to bring the litigation to a decisive end.”
These days there seems to be increasingly an assumption that court proceedings are always a bad thing: everything must be done to resolve the matter out of court. However, this is not always the best way forward. Sometimes, the best way to make real progress is for the court to take a grip of the matter and speed it towards a conclusion.
That was the situation here. To explain, I will quote the next three paragraphs of the judgment in full:
“When the case began, there was no proper basis for knowing how it would end. I had no preconceptions. As so often happens, clarity came as the case unfolded particularly when, over several hours, the parents gave their evidence. By the end of the process, it had become very straightforward indeed to identify the origins of the problems. In the result, there is no difficulty either in formulating welfare decisions for the children.
“My only regret is that for what appeared to be justifiable reasons at the time, this hearing was not convened about a year ago, in the spring of 2013. The impact of the delay from the children’s perspective has been to protract an already onerous process almost beyond endurance. All I can say is that, with the benefit of hindsight, I should not have been enticed towards the model of therapeutic assessment and possible treatment. I should have set the matter down for hearing rather than pursue a process which would have been most unlikely to result in any kind of success within a timescale that was remotely acceptable from the children’s perspective.
“The issue as to the orders which should be made at the end of the hearing is relatively narrow. It is as to whether the proceedings should be brought to an end by the making of an order for only indirect contact; or, instead, continued with provision for there to be a ‘family meeting’ within a psychotherapeutic setting. In order to answer that question it has been altogether necessary to develop a good understanding of the reasons for the current as well as past difficulties.”
As may be expected from this, Mrs Justice Pauffley rejected the idea of a therapeutic family meeting. Instead, she made a final order providing that the father have indirect contact only with the children, by way of occasional cards, letters and presents.
However, she did not end her judgment there. Looking to the future, she said:
“The task now for the adults … is to seek to make progress in restoring some kind of relationship between the children and their father, albeit at a distance. There are several small acts of kindness which the father may wish to consider. He could provide the mother with occasional financial assistance for the children enabling her to purchase items she would otherwise struggle to afford. He could send the mother messages wishing her happiness at the times of Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Succot, Hannukkah and Passover. It should be straightforward for some dialogue to begin between them centred upon the children’s achievements.”
She concluded with this excellent sentiment:
“It is all about respect; and a willingness to start again in the process of trying to interact as parents in a way which will enhance rather than harm their children. I wish them every success in that endeavour.”
So do I.
Photo by Michael 1952 under a Creative Commons licence