A couple of weeks ago I wrote here about cases in which families tear themselves apart by continuous litigation, and how this can be particularly tragic when children are involved. Unfortunately, it hasn’t taken long for another example of this awful phenomenon to be reported.
In AL v DA the parents have managed to litigate substantially in both England and France. I do not propose here to discuss the legalities of the case itself (the judgment, handed down by Mr Justice Holman on the 9th of July last, just relates to a directions hearing, not a final hearing), but rather the destructive behaviour of the parents.
The case concerned a child, who is now aged about eleven and a half. His parents never married. His mother is French and lives in Paris, and his father is English and lives in southern England. Initially he lived with his mother, but we are told that as a result of legal proceedings in France “many years ago” he moved to live with his father.
There then followed “further considerable litigation” in England and in 2011, after a six day hearing, it was ordered by Mr Justice McFarlane (as he then was) that the boy should continue to reside with his father in England, but spend extensive periods of time with his mother. Mr Justice Holman says of this:
“It shines out from the judgment of McFarlane J that he felt that the continuing conflict between the parents had been, and was potentially, very damaging to their son.”
“It might have been hoped”, continues Mr Justice Holman, “that, following that judgment and apparently final decision, the conflict would have died down, but here we are, almost exactly three years on, and the mother has now issued a fresh application.”
The mother’s application, as one might have guessed, is for an order that the son now moves to live with her in France. She maintains that the son badly wishes to live with her and dislikes living with his father.
The father, it seems, considers that the son is only telling his mother what he thinks she wants to hear. The father believes that what is going on in the boy’s life is causing him psychological harm. Tellingly, in the course of his judgment Mr Justice Holman says of the son:
“The tragedy of this case is that he was born an innocent child; and if and in so far as he may now be suffering emotional damage and harm, that is entirely referable to the long history of conflict between his parents.”
Later in the judgment Mr Justice Holman considers the possibility of the parents resolving matters via mediation. He says:
“What, surely, shines out again and again from this dreadful story and this judgment is the intensity of the conflict between these parents and the hugely damaging effect that further litigation is likely to have on their son now that he is aged 11 and will be approaching 12 by the time of final hearing. He will have intense awareness of this conflict.”
He urges the parents to consider mediation, despite it failing previously, and concludes with the following:
“I make all the directions that I do today, which are directed inevitably under our system to a final contested hearing, which at the moment has all the prospects of being a terrible one. However, my last words, although I have said this many times during the course of today, is to urge upon these parents that, before this gets out of control yet again; before they perpetuate emotional damage to their son; and before they spend enormous amounts of money which one or both of them may not really have, they bend every endeavour to see if they cannot find some way, with skilled professional help, to mediate and resolve these issues rather than head precipitately down the road to war.”
I have read this sort of judicial exhortation many times, but make no apology for mentioning it here, so soon after my previous post. Parents involved in protracted disputes over arrangements for their children need to understand the damage that they are doing to the most precious people in their lives. The more of them that read Mr Justice Holman’s wise words, the better the chances that they will realise the error of their ways.
Photo by Mark Hamilton via Flickr