Father fails in ‘implacably hostile’ contact dispute

Family Law|August 24th 2015

The father of a 12 year-old boy has failed in his legal bid for contact against an “implacably hostile” mother.

In a case which the Court of Appeal admitted had “a tragic outcome”, the father was denied even indirect contact with his son. This means that he could not see the boy in person, nor could he have conversations with him over the phone, by post or via the internet.

The boy’s parents separated in 2005 and initially, the father spent between one and two hours a week with him. Despite an “extremely strong attachment” between the two, contact began to deteriorate the following year. The father applied to the courts to rectify this. A Cafcass officer on the case recommended that contact be stayed (postponed) until a full investigation could be carried out.

Both the mother and the child were described as suffering from “significant psychological and/or emotional vulnerabilities” as a result of the contact dispute. So much so that, in 2007, the father withdrew his initial application because of the stress it was inflicting upon the mother. He later claimed that this was “the most ill advised decision that he has made in his life”.

Three years later, the father once again launched an application to have contact with his son. By this time, the mother had developed “a highly negative and adverse view” that the father was dangerous. Her son had also adopted this view and adamantly objected to the prospect of contact.

As a result, the father’s initial appeal failed, so he took his case to the Court of Appeal. He claimed that the mother had been “implacably hostile” towards him. In family law, this means that she had made a conscious effort to prevent him from seeing his son.

Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Lord Justice McFarlane said that in most cases, it is “in the best interests of a child to grow up having a full, real and entirely ordinary relationship with each of his or her parentseven after a separation.

However, he ruled that the initial judge was correct to rule that it would be “a formidable change in the circumstances” to start contact again after so long, especially considering the child’s objections to participation.

Therefore, the judge dismissed the father’s appeal. In his conclusion, Lord Justice McFarlane said that the decision he had come to was “a tragedy” for both the father and son but claimed that some family disputes cannot be solved by “the blunt instrument of a judge sitting in a law court making an order”.

To read the Court of Appeal’s judgment in full, click here.

Author: Stowe Family Law


  1. The Devil's Advocate says:

    I believe a detailed analysis by Karen Woodall and the “Kirk Weir Brigade” is essential.

    I wonder if this would be a situation if the father acted to alienate the child from their mother?

    More importantly unless their are criminal proceedings against the father for domestic abuse which your JB reminded us in his blog of last week has enlarged by a factor of five, then l fear that justice has not prevailed. l believe a comment in lieu of Sir James Munby’s ruling to a similar case in April would not go amiss and something the Court may have overlooked.

    A parent is for life. And they have legal rights too which supercede “wishes and feelings”, being modelled and scripted by the alienating parent on the child resting contact. Soon the expression will become a cliché if it wasn’t a criminally intended act of despotism.

    Sometimes the Court should recognise this holistically which includes being in the child’s best and even better interests. This child will live a life, thanks to rhe Court, in a dlysfunctional condition where the actual father himself as a role model is absent, yet with parental responsibility. What universe are we living in? How can he be responible in the full meaning as provided by Sir James’s recent past comments? And would you like to know the views of stepfathers by Sir Michael Wilshaw. (Ofsted’s Chief Inspector). You would be amazed! What a legacy?

    We definitely need some experienced professional child psychologists on the benches of our Courts particularly in situations of such intricate feelings of real needs for abused children. Alienation is a domestic abuse as it is a hate crime and as such it should be sanctioned a criminal offence, so l have been told by such psychological experienced professional colleagues at our Samaritan meetings!

    And no indirect contact, blimey even mass murderers are allowed this! My goodness me we are still living in the Stone Age legally!

  2. Rachel says:

    What an outrage and what a terrible outcome for the boy. The Courts should never be able to assert that the Mother’s stress is a barrier to contact and the Courts should never ever allow a child to be so brainwashed into hostility. Mother’s are very powerful people who can mould their children to think anything. The Courts should recognise that.

    I wonder if the Court considered that the child is in extreme emotional danger living with a Mother who sounds extremely emotionally unstable. Children who live with emotionally unstable parents often behave in a manner to ‘keep the peace’ as it makes for an easy life. It’s quite foreseeable that a boy who lives in such an emotionally unstable environment will choose the option that keeps his mother happy.

    Children should never be denied contact with a parent unless it is demonstrated that the parent is a risk of harming them. I agree with The Devil’s Advocate – we treat mass murderers better than this poor father has been treated.

  3. CG says:

    What a tragic case. How can this outcome stand just a few weeks after the case of the mother who abducted her son, after the courts ruled in favour of transfer of residence for the child to protect him from the emotional harm he was stuffing, and likely to continue suffering, by the mother’s actions. This boy is clearly suffering. The phrase re the mother considering the father is ‘dangerous’ and that contact with the son would be ‘dangerous’ to him is bandied about with out anyone, seemingly, defining what that ‘danger’ might be. How on earth is this case not clearly labelled as one in which implacable hostility is evident and the cause of the son’s reactions. Appalling outcome for the child, with terrible ramifications for his continued mental health.

  4. M says:

    I find these reactions simplistic. The situation in these cases is rarely simple. Who is to say that M is not trying to protect her son from the emotional harm she knows F does? My daughter has had years of trying to protect her son, now 7, who sees F under supervision following an incident and F’s arrest while child was in his care.Yet F keeps up a campaign of attrition, twisting things around to try to make it all seem M’s fault. It is a miracle that she too does not appear ‘unstable’, like the mother in this case.. But she is a strong person, and above all she wants her son to have a positive image of his father – for the sake of building son’s own confidence and self-image as he grows into manhood. But that does not mean she thinks it would be a good idea for son to see a lot of F, who is a domestic abuser, a binge drinker and a spinner of untruths. Historically the child did not function well in his daily life – did not get on well at school, etc – when he was seeing a lot of F, because F constantly sews the seeds of trouble, so child was constantly agitated and preoccupied. Perhaps in this case the judge saw that and decided the kindest thing for the child would be to cut him loose from a source of constant conflict. I admire the wisdom of this judge’s decision. It was a brave thing to do and in the child’s ‘best interests’.

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