Judge rules in favour of safeguarding checks for stepfather

Family|July 24th 2014

Safeguarding checks on a stepfather should proceed despite the objections of both the man and his wife, a judge has ruled.

In Re D, the mother had lived with the father of her first two childrenbetween 1995 and 2004. However, in October of that year, the couple had a “serious argument”, during which the father “violently assaulted” the mother. During a 2006 hearing, the assault was ruled to be a fact by Mr Justice Bodey.

As a result of the incident, the father has not seen either of his sons since 2004, although he had indirect contact with them until around 2006. They are now aged 14 and 10. In addition, the mother developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following the assault. During a new hearing at the High Court in London last month, also before Mr Justice Bodey, the judge said the condition involved:

“…flashbacks, nausea, palpitations and other symptoms, which would revive at the very thought of any contact by the father with herself or her family.”

He added:

“… she has seen and still sees the father as in her words a ‘monster’ and a ‘violent and manipulative pest’; a ‘worthless and dangerous intruder’, liable to undo the good which she has done for her boys and for her family.”

The mother moved abroad and married a new partner, with whom she has since had a daughter. She returned to the UK after a few years, although the father did not discover this until 2011, at which point he applied to resume contact with the two boys.

The mother appeared reluctant to participate in the resulting legal process, and psychiatrists were only able to complete a psychiatric assessment of the various parties after some effort. They eventually concluded that the father no longer posed any real risk to the boys or their mother, although they noted that the mother did not see the situation that way. They therefore recommended that the mother complete a course of cognitive behaviour therapy before the resumption of any contact.

It emerged that the children were keen to see their father and that they had taken a dislike to their stepfather, who they saw as domineering. One told social workers:

“I really hate my stepdad and how he is always intruding and trying to control everyone’s life.”

Both the boys were struggling at school and one had begun to self-harm.

Indirect contact between the boys and their father was ordered and at that point, Cafcass raised the possibility of carrying out safeguarding checks on the boys’ stepfather. Both he and the mother refused to co-operate with this, however, so Cafcass applied to court for orders requiring the checks to be carried out. The mother would also be required provide information required by the Cafcass officers.

Mr Justice Bodey considered relevant legislation regarding the involvement of third parties like new partners in contact cases, eventually concluding:

“In the last analysis, it comes down in my mind to a question of proportionality. Is it or is it not proportionate, in the interests of the children and of ensuring that there is nothing worrying in the stepfather’s known background, that he should suffer some carefully regulated interference with his right to respect for his private life? Carrying out this balancing exercise, and indeed on balance, I have come to the conclusion that it is proportionate and that any relevant information about him which might be held on record should ideally be known to the court.”

The legal orders requested by Cafcass were reasonable ones, he said, adding:

“I hope [the mother and stepfather] will come to see that their fears are not justified: that this is not being done to satisfy any wish by the father to be intrusive.”

Read the full judgement here.

For more on the role of third parties in family break-ups and divorce, please click here.

Letter box image credit: Mike_Fleming.

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  1. Luke says:

    I don’t know the rights and wrongs of this case and frankly I highly doubt that in reality the Judge does either – but 2 things strike me: –
    (1) The mother sees their real father as an ongoing threat, the psychiatrists don’t. They then decide as a result of this to send the mother on a course of cognitive behaviour therapy. What do they think is going to happen ? Do they really think the mother is going to say at the end of the course:
    “What was I thinking ? Everything is fine, he’s no danger at all !”.
    This either shows an arrogance of monumental proportions regarding their abilities or a strong desire to access more public money to be spent on these courses which are likely to deliver nothing.
    (2) Who in their right mind would get involved as a stepdad ? The poor basket-weaver seems to have no end of grief from his stepsons and now he has got the court raking through his private life. I am not saying whether he is ‘controlling’ or not because I don’t know and I am not even saying the court is necessarily wrong to do it – but is it any wonder that most men avoid single mothers as a matter of course ???

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