ASK A FAMILY LAWYER
In this regular column, Stowe Family Law solicitors answer readers’ questions on different legal issues. Today’s topic goes to Graham Coy, a Partner in our London office. If you have a question, send it to [email protected] and we’ll choose one to be featured in the next Ask A Family Lawyer.
Blog reader H asks:
I have a long running case for contact with my two boys. The court has ordered indirect contact with the eldest, who will be 14 in July, and direct contact with youngest, who will be 12 in July.
I previously had full contact – up until February 2014. Their mother then stopped contact, saying she could no longer promote it. 26 hearings later all Cafcass reports recommend resuming contact as soon as possible.
I have put a fresh application in but Cafcass now recommend that it’s not in the children’s interests to resume direct contact after such long period without seeing me. Instead they suggest continuing indirect contact.
To cut to the chase: the mother has not promoted contact or is not willing to and stated that she has left it to the children to decide. She claims they are too traumatised to resume contact.
I believe the children have been and subjected to coercive hostile parenting because of her failings. So what I can expect from the courts who have the statutory power to resume contact? There are absolutely no safeguarding issues.
It’s simple as this: the mother won’t promote contact due to her entrenched view of me.
I was very sorry to read about the problems you are experiencing in arranging to see your two sons.
You mentioned that Cafcass have undertaken a number of reports and that there have been 26 separate hearings, which is extremely unusual.
The first thing to mention is that whenever a court makes any decision about children, their welfare has to be the paramount consideration.
To assist the court, the Children Act 1989 sets out a number of factors which must always be taken into account. These are known as the ‘welfare checklist’ and include :
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings for the child concerned.
- His or her physical, emotional and educational needs.
- Any harm which he or she has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
What you do not mention is whether or not the Court has considered obtaining an independent report from a child psychiatrist.
In cases where there is high degree of disagreemnet or conflict between parents that can develop into what is known as ‘parental alienation syndrome’.
There is disagreement within the medical profession as to whether or not this is a mental disorder but increasingly it is recognised as a problem that has to be dealt with, and dealt with seriously and quickly, before the children concerned are damaged even more.
Typically one parent, normally the principal or main carer, embarks on a pattern of behaviour, with a view to ensuring that the children concerned do not want to see their other parent. This can include making allegations of physical and sexual abuse against the other parent, or convincing the children themselves that they have been mistreated in one way or the other, so that when they are spoken to by, for example, Cafcass they make it clear that they have no wish to see the other parent at all.
In brief, it is a pattern of behaviour where one parent attempts to turn the child concerned against the other parent.
If this behaviour is allowed to continue, the child becomes totally alienated from the other parent and it is then very difficult to repair the relationship.
But it also creates an unnatural relationship with the parent who is making the allegations. The child has only positive feelings for the parent who makes the allegations and only negative feelings for the other parent. They become unnaturally dependent upon the one parent they get to see.
Therefore, the child’s range of feelings for both parents is not that of a normal youngster and research has shown that in later life they may have great difficulty in forming stable, permanent relationships of their own.
I am not saying that applies to you and your sons but I certainly think that it needs investigation.
Returning to your particular circumstances I think there are a number of things you could do.
Firstly, you do not mention whether you have legal advice or representation. If you do not, and you can afford it (legal aid is no longer available), then you should obstain some immediately.
Secondly, if this has not already been considered you should think about making an application to the court for your sons to be seen, independently, by an experienced child psychiatrist.
Thirdly, you need to ensure that the case is not allowed to drift.
And fourthly, I think you should be seriously considering whether or not your sons should come and live with you if, as you say, their mother is either unable or unwilling to promote contact.
Lastly, never give up on your children. Then, no matter what happens it is more likely that a court will ensure that you continue to play a role in their lives, even if you are not able to see them face to face. Eventually they will come to realise the importance of their father in their lives.