I wrote here just last week about what can happen if a contact order is disobeyed. In the case referred to in that post what happened to the parent who disobeyed the order was that she was ‘committed’ (sent) to prison. Committal is not, however, the only course of action open to a court faced with a parent intent upon thwarting its will, as demonstrated by another County Court decision, W v G.
Sadly, the situation in W v G will be all too familiar to family lawyers. It concerned a parent who, for whatever reasons, was determined to frustrate her children’s relationship with their father.
The judgment in W v G doesn’t tell us an awful lot about the background to the case, but it involved a father’s application for a child arrangements order which would allow his two sons, aged five and four, to live with him. It is not clear when the parents separated, but following the separation they had clearly lived mainly with their mother.
The court had already made an order regarding the children, in November 2014. That order, which had been made “after a very lengthy process”, specified a shared care arrangement. The judge’s rationale for making such an order was that he hoped that it would prevent the mother from continuing, as he found she had, “to seek to distance the children from their father and to diminish him as part of their lives”. The Judge hoped the order would deliver to the mother the “important message” that she was “no longer solely in the driving seat in respect of the exercise of parental responsibility.”
Unfortunately, that order did not change the mother’s attitude, and the father therefore made his application. I will not go into the details of the mother’s behaviour, but essentially she did not comply with the order and continued to do what she could to frustrate the father’s relationship with the boys. For example, she did not allow the father to speak to the children on the phone, as specified in the order, and she unilaterally selected the children’s schools despite the order making it clear that the decision should be made jointly. She even falsified an entry in the contact notebook, continuing her efforts to deliberately disrupt of the father’s arrangements to see his children. (It is notable that in earlier proceedings the judge decided to refer the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions, prompting the prosecution service and the police to launch proceedings against the mother for perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice).
In short, the judge found that despite being given a chance to mend her ways, “the evidence shows that this mother has continued to obstruct and disrupt the father’s proper relationship with the children”, causing them emotional harm.
In the circumstances the judge held that the welfare of the boys would be best served if they went to live with their father, and he made an order to that effect. He also ordered that the mother’s parental responsibility be restricted in several ways. She would, for example, no longer be have the authority to allow them to be examined or interviewed by any professional, medical or otherwise, or any child protection agent, without the father’s permission, except in an emergency. The father would also now be responsible for selecting any schools the children would attend, in consultation with the mother.
At the beginning of this post I discussed the options open to a court if a parent is intent upon thwarting its will. Here, it is true to say that the will of the court was to secure a proper relationship between the children and their father, and that the final order made addressed the failures of the mother to comply with the will of the court. However, the real lesson for any parent who behaves like the mother in this case is not that such actions conflict with the will of the court, but rather that they are detrimental to the welfare of the children. Any parent tempted to behave in such a fashion must understand that they are not just hurting the other parent, but also their own flesh and blood.
The full report of W v G can be found here.