The mother of a toddler has failed to overturn a court order forbidding her from direct contact with the child born of an extra-marital affair.
In P (A Child), the girl’s parents had met while the father was visiting China for work. His wife, referred to as ‘YP’, remained in the UK. During his visit, they began an affair and the woman fell pregnant. The man then confessed to his wife and three eventually reached an agreement. The child, ‘H’, would come back to the UK with her father and be raised here by the him and his wife, the infant’s stepmother.
The journey took place when the girl was nine weeks old, in July 2014. Since then, the father has provided the biological mother with regular updates on the progress of her child in the UK.
In the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice King acknowledge the emotional reality that lay behind this apparently neat arrangement:
“[The situation] of course [did] nothing to reflect the heartache and distress for all concerned at that time; for the father’s guilt, the step mother’s sense of betrayal and the mother’s distress at reaching the decision which she felt to be right for her then unborn second child, in circumstances where she already had a nine year old daughter to care for as a single parent.”
Before the arrangement was reached, the trio had discussed an abortion, and YP’s support for this option led to a rapid deterioration in the relationship between her and the biological mother, deterioration which eventually became “visceral hatred” in the words of the Judge.
“The mother is unconstrained about her feelings, which she says stem from what she describes as the step mother’s efforts to make her “kill” her child (by which she means to have had an abortion).”
The birth mother had sent a great many “abusive” emails criticising the step-mother’s care of H and opposing plans to give YP parental responsibility for the child. Despite this hostility, the step mother still gave up work to look after H.
Meanwhile, the girl’s natural mother discussed the possibility of bringing the child back out to China for a visit but insisted that YP could not come on the trip, despite the fact that she and H had not been apart since she had first been brought to England.
The natural mother’s dislike of the stepmother and her opposition to the latter being given parental responsibility led to the intervention of Cafcass, who interviewed the father and stepmother in response to various angry allegations by the natural mother.
The officer reported that H was receiving excellent care with her father and YP, concluding that the natural mother had overreacted to statements by the stepmother-to-be during her pregnancy.
Lady Justice King described the officer’s report as showing “considerable compassion” for the natural mother, despite the fact that the latter was “highly critical” of her.
Attempts to negotiate contact between H and her biological mother came to nothing. The latter continued sending abusive emails and announced that she no longer agreed to H living with the father. She “demanded” two weeks in China with H and threatened violence against YP if she came on the trip. In February last year, the case was transferred to the High Court after the birth mother demanded the return of H altogether.
During a video conference before Mr Justice Keehan, the natural mother said she would only abandon her application for the return of H if her contact demands were met, and made abusive comments about both the father and step mother, insisting that she would make her hatred of YP clear to H as she grew up. In addition:
“…she made a threat in open court to kill the step mother and said that she would attack her if she saw her.”
The Chinese woman subsequently sent further threatening messages to the father and his wife, complaining as well about the Judge, the Cafcass officer and the father’s solicitors.
Unsurprisingly, the father and the Cafcass both concluded that the direct contact with her mother was no longer in H’s best interests, in the light of both “the direct threats to kill the step mother, but also the endless, irrational, offensive and threatening emails”.
Mr Justice Keehan made a child arrangements order endorsing this conclusion, limiting contact to indirect methods. The birth mother appealed, arguing that the Judge had not properly set out his reasons in a relatively brief judgement, but this claim was rejected.
Lady Justice King noted:
“The issue before the trial became whether, as a consequence only of the mother’s behaviour over the previous months, culminating in a direct threat to kill the child’s psychological [step] mother made in front of the judge, it now became necessary for the court to draw back from what would otherwise have been the appropriate and common place outcome of a case of this nature, namely an order providing for such direct contact as could reasonably be accommodated given that the parties live on different continents.”
She declared the earlier ruling was fully justified and that:
“This court always applauds concise judgments.”
The ruling is here.