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Father wins appeal after judge fails to explain himself

The father of a five year-old boy has won his appeal against a family court ruling because the Judge did not properly explain his reasons.

In The Matter of V (A Child) concerned a couple who met during their teens and began a relationship which lasted a number of years. Their child, referred to in the judgement as ‘T’, was born in December 2009. The parents split up sometime after that but the mother and father gave different accounts of exactly when. He claimed it was summer 2011, while she insisted it was considerably earlier, when the baby was just six months old.

After the separation the father saw his son on a regular basis until August 2012., although the parents disputed how often this took place. He said it was every week for a number of days, while she said it was only at weekends and claimed there were periods of no contact.

Eventually, the mother made a number of allegations about the father, including the suggestion that he was aggressive to her on some occasions. Her allegations were the subject of a family court hearing. The Judge at this hearing found against the father, delivering what was described by the Court of Appeal as an “extempore judgement”. This had consisted of a lengthy recital of the evidence, but included little detail of the reasons behind the Judge’s decision.

When the father’s legal team applied for permission to appeal on the latter basis, Lady Justice Black told them to go back to the Judge and ask him for a statement of his reasons. However, his response amounted to “less than one side of A4”. She then granted the father permission to appeal.

Lord Justice McFarlane shared Lady Justice Black’s concern at the brevity of the reasons given by the earlier Judge. It had not, he said, examined the discrepancies between the timings given by the couple

“There is no finding as to when they separated.  That is important not simply because it will indicate the quality and length of the day to day relationship the father had with T before the separation but it is also important because many of the dates that are set out in the allegations of fact that the judge was determining traverse the period that is in dispute.”

The judgement had also made no findings of fact regarding the quality of the contact the father had had with T. This was “bedrock information”, said Lord Justice McFarlane.

The judgement had contained only a summary of the conclusions the Judge had reached, “creating an unnecessary and unwelcome fault-line” in the ruling.

The case was sent back to the lower courts for a rehearing.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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