A six year-old girl who lost her mother to cancer should remain the family friends who have cared for her since the death, a Judge has ruled.
In Re E-R, the girl, referred to as ‘T’, had spent the first five years of her life with her mother, who had been diagnosed when her daughter was just two.
The family friends were referred to in the judgement as Mr and Mrs ‘H’. Mother and daughter began living with them following her separation from the father. In January last year, as the mother approached the end of her life, the couple applied for a child arrangements order in their favour, allowing H to remain with them after the mother finally passed away. But the father opposed the application and a judge ruled that she should instead be sent to live with her father when her mother died.
They appealed the ruling, with the support of the mother, and were successful. The Court of Appeal concluded that the judge had placed too much emphasis on the child’s biological ties to her father and ordered a rehearing.
A year passed before the rehearing took place, an interval described as ‘regrettable’ by Mr Justice Cobb In the High Court. In that time the mother passed away and the child continued to live with Mr and Mrs H in Cornwall while visiting her father and his new partner.
T’s parents originally met in 2007. They did not marry and when she was born, in 2009, the father was named on her birth certificate, thereby acquiring parental responsibility. They split acrimoniously in 2011, with a restraining order issued against the father. He now lives in Suffolk with a new partner. The mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer the same year.
At the earlier hearing, Judge Vincent had been critical of the father’s efforts to stay in touch with his daughter before the mother’s death.
“On any view [the father] was not proactive and his explanation of the difficulties in his way was not really adequate, viewing it from T’s perspective. There was a sense however of resignation in him to [the mother’s] negative view of him. One has to ask oneself just when he would have put his head above the parapet in T’s life had [Mrs. H] not made her application. In all possibility that would have been when the mother had died which would have left him, at best as a dim memory in T’s life”.
Nevertheless, father and daughter had since established a positive relationship during her visits, noted Mr Justice Cobb.
“There is much evidence that T enjoys time with her father and Miss B [his new partner]; I have seen many photographs of T in the company of the father and paternal family which appear to confirm this.”
But the tensions between the father and Mrs and Mrs H had also begun to affect the child, he continued.
“The father and Miss B were observed to be patient, calm and gentle with T. However, the discord between Mr. and Mrs. H on the one hand, and the father and Miss B on the other, has undoubtedly caused tensions which have been obvious to T and she has found the transitions from one household to the other extremely problematic; this has inevitably affected the overall success of the visits.”
The little girl had begun to display signs of stress, such as an upset stomach and bed wetting at the time of the visits. On one recent occasion she HAD refused to leave the house, provoking a round of accusations and arguments between Mr and Mrs H, the father and Miss B.
Mr Justice Cobb concluded that T should remain with Mr and Mrs H. He spoke of her need for stability, continuity and emotional support following the death of her mother.
“T’s physical, emotional and educational needs are being well met in the care of the Hs; T benefits from the routines of her life, of her schooling, and of her activities (ballet, brownies, horse-riding etc.) which she has enjoyed in the care of the Hs continuously since before the death of her mother. …T’s current school has played a successful and vital role in cradling her through recent dark times, supporting the essentially uninterrupted progress of her education. T has profound emotional needs; for understanding, empathy, freedom from conflict and loss, security, and love. A change in her current arrangements would be dramatic for her.”
Nevertheless, it was important that T continued to see her father and Miss B on a regular basis. Their “close involvement” was vital to her wellbeing, said the Judge. He specified a programme of regular visits, expressing the hope that this would increase over time, and also stressed the importance of Mr and Mrs H allowing T to see her half-sister as well.
Read the ruling here.
Photo by Lydia via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence