It is not unusual for a family court judgment to contain little in the way of law but a lot in the way of common sense. This is particularly so when it comes to judgments concerning disputes over arrangements for children. Of course, this should come as no surprise – after all, common sense is surely central to good parenting.
Take, for example, the recently published judgment W v G (the judgment was actually handed down last November). The judgment related to the final hearing of a long running contact dispute concerning the father’s contact with the two children, aged four and three.
I’m not going to go through the details of the case. Instead, I’m going to pick out and discuss a few thought-provoking quotes from the judgment of His Honour Judge Lochrane, beginning with this:
“This is a case which is overshadowed in no small measure by a significant lack of communication between the relevant grown-ups.”
How often have we seen this? The ending of a relationship may mean that the relationship between the parents is terminated, but it cannot change the fact that they are still the parents of the children, and always will be. Accordingly, whether they like it or not they will still be required to communicate with each other, dealing not just with practical arrangements for the children such as residence and contact, but also dealing with major decisions relating to such matters as their health and education. The line of communication must therefore be kept open, for the sake of the children:
“The parties are responsible for these children and it is their responsibility to put aside their differences and communicate as far as possible in the children’s welfare interests.”
Moving on, we often hear parents speaking of their rights in respect of their children. However, the issue is in reality one of the children’s rights. In particular, their right to have a relationship with both parents and their extended families:
“These are the children’s rights in these respects and the parents have only the responsibility to ensure that the children have access to those rights.”
For the parents, parenthood is a matter of responsibility, rather than rights. To deny a child a relationship with one half of his or her family without good reason is a serious failure of that responsibility. The fact of the matter is that there very rarely is a good reason to deny a child access to their family and thus a depressingly huge number of private law children cases involve one parent failing in their responsibility to their children by attempting to exclude the other parent from their children’s lives.
The final quotes relate to another all-too-common scenario:
“…when a parent denigrates the other parent to the children, it is a comment upon what is half of each of those children.”
After a relationship breakdown one parent may have a pretty dim view of the other. Whether or not there is any substance in this and whatever may have gone before, they should not disclose their feelings to their children. As Judge Lochrane went on to say:
“To suggest that somehow one parent is lesser or greater than the other is to indicate to the children that they have a deficient aspect of their own personality and that is psychologically harmful and it is in fact a measure of abuse.”
Children are not the property or product of one parent. If you have bad things to say about the other parent then tell them to your friends if you must, but do not tell them to your children. If you do so, then you are not just damaging their relationship with the other parent but also saying something critical about them.
Of course, most parents do not need to be told these things, least of all by a judge. However, sometimes the emotions kindled by relationship breakdown can blind a parent to common sense. In those circumstances, they would do well to listen to a little judicial wisdom.
The full judgment of W v G can be read here.