High Court Judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson has published a family relocation ruling in the form of a letter to the affected child.
The case concerned a 14 year-old referred to in the ruling by the pseudonym ‘Sam’. He lives with his mother and stepfather and sees his biological father regularly. The latter announced plans to go and live in an unidentified Scandinavian country. Sam wanted to do go with him and actually made a court application to be able to do so. Eventually his father took over this application.
The case came before Mr Justice Peter Jackson, who explained:
“At the end of the hearing, I gave my decision in the form of a letter to Sam, which I read to his parents and gave to his solicitor to give to him and to discuss with him.”
The Judge then asked the family whether they thought he should publish the ruling online, as is now routine for most family cases. They readily agreed but apart from the father. He, however, could give no specific reason for his objections.
Written in an informal, accessible language uncharacteristic of legal judgements, the judgement sets out to explain why he had concluded that the move would not be the boy’s best interests. He referred to the Cafcass officer involved in the case by her first name – ‘Gemma’ -and encouraged Sam to Google the Children Act 1989, which states that the welfare of children in family cases must be the judge’s first priority.
“I believe that your feelings are that you love everyone in your family very much, just as they love you. The fact that your parents don’t agree is naturally very stressful for you, and indeed for them. Gemma could see that when she met you, and so could I when you briefly gave evidence. Normally, even when parents are separated, they manage to agree on the best arrangements for their children. If they can’t, the court is there as a last resort. Unfortunately, in your case, there have been court orders since you were one year old: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010 – and now again in 2017. What this shows is how very difficult your parents have found it to reach agreements. This is unusual, but it how you have grown up. The danger is you get used to it.”
He praised the boy for his manner while giving evidence and stressed that his views carried a lot of weight given his maturity. However, the Judge was concerned by the major upheaval which would result from moving to Scandinavia.
“Sam, the evidence shows that you are doing well in life at the moment. You have your school, your friends, your music, and two homes. You’ve lived in England all your life. All your friends and most of your family are here. I have to consider the effect of any change in the arrangements and any harm that might come from it.”
His father had not produced any concrete plans for the move.
“Your father described the move to Scandinavia as an adventure and said that once the court had given the green light, he would arrange everything. That is not good enough.”
“I think you would find it exciting at first, but when reality set in, you might become sad and isolated. I also don’t think it is good for you to be with your father 24/7.”
Mr Justice Peter Jackson contrasted the mother’s settled home life with the father’s less conventional lifestyle, describing him as troubled and unhappy because he had “not achieved his goals in life”.
He agreed to allow Sam to spend more time with his father but only if the latter abandoned his plans to move to Scandinavia. He gave the father a deadline of 1 September to decide whether not to go ahead with his move and issued a revised contact schedule featuring visits on alternate weekends which would come into force only if the father elected to say in the UK.
In his introduction to the published ruling, the Judge notes that Sam “received the decision with apparent equanimity.”
Read the ruling here.
Photo by Irene Bonacchi via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence