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Children to remain with mother despite emotional abuse

Sometimes the final decision upon what is best for children may turn out to be entirely different from what had previously been expected.

In April last year Ms Justice Russell made these findings against a mother (‘C’) in a child arrangements case concerning two children, now aged 14 and 12:

“I find that C has never wanted contact to take place and has constantly and repeatedly tried to stop or undermine the time the children spend with their father.”


“…by manipulating her children, C has achieved what she has always wanted and stopped contact with their father. She has done so either because she cannot help herself or because she had quite deliberately set out to expunge their father from their lives. These children have suffered significant emotional harm as a result of their mother’s manipulative actions…”

And, most damningly:

“The fact is that these two children have been emotionally abused by their mother.”

As a result of these findings it appeared that it would be in the children’s best interests for them to be removed from their mother’s care, and go to live with their father, who resides in Sweden. Indeed, both the local authority and children’s guardian recommended this.

But many things changed between April last year and the final hearing of the case in February this year. Firstly, contact between the children and their father was re-established, and appears to be proceeding reasonably well. Secondly, the children had become even more deeply ‘fixed’ in their lives in England – the younger child in particular having gained a place in a highly sought-after local secondary school, and both expressing a clear wish to remain in this country. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the mother’s behaviour and attitude towards the issue of the children’s relationship with their father had improved significantly, she apparently having realised the error of her ways vis-à-vis her previous behaviour.

As a result of these matters both the local authority and the children’s guardian had changed their position by the time of the final hearing, both now recommending that the children remain with their mother in England.

Ms Justice Russell agreed. She said:

“The children’s guardian and the local authority have concluded that whatever C actually thinks or feels she has demonstrated that she is likely to be able to put her own feelings to one side and extend to the children the emotional permission to relax into and enjoy an enduring relationship with their father. There is independent evidence that she has already begun to do so based on the children(‘s) enjoyment of contact and their father’s company. To move the children would, as the guardian says, result in multiple losses which they would be forced to face, against their wishes. The loss of their mother, their home, their schools and all that goes with them, their friends, the activities and social life and their siblings and step-father. Given that contact, including video-communications, has been fully resumed and aspects of it have actually improved … I can find no good reason why on balance it is in the children’s best interests to move them.”

As one might expect, the father maintained that, in expressing the wish to remain with her, the children were “merely acting as mouthpieces for their mother”. However, Ms Justice Russell did not accept this, considering that it was “demeaning to these children to suggest that they are incapable of independent thought at their ages and with their individual abilities and qualities.” In any event, as counsel for the older child said, the children could not be “dragged to Sweden against their wishes”.

Accordingly, Ms Justice Russell concluded that the children should remain in England living with their mother, continuing to have contact with their father. She also made a supervision order in favour of the local authority, at least in part so that the local authority could ensure that there was no ‘back-sliding’ by the mother.

As I said at the beginning, the final decision in a children case is not always obvious from the start. But then this is a natural consequence of the principle that the welfare of the child is paramount. It is not the primary business of the family courts in children cases to punish parental wrongdoing – their primary business is to do what is best for the child.

You can read the full report of the judgment here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. Paul Apreda says:

    An all too familiar story of the failure of the Family Justice system to act swiftly enough or with sufficient determination to resolve intractable contact disputes.
    In a meeting with the President of the Family Division I recounted the experience of a new attendee at our Bridgend support meeting. This man was in the process of splitting up from the mother of his children and had come along at the earliest stage to learn more about what might happen and how best to manage the process. He listened to the others at the meeting recount their experiences and progress of their disputes over child contact. When it came time for him to speak he said ‘So from what I’ve heard the only way for me to ensure that I remain in the lives of my children is to grab the kids, make allegations against my ex and refuse to negotiate.
    I shared with Sir James that I had struggled to come up with a convincing argument against that approach as we all knew how effective it was. I asked the President what advice he would give me so that I could use that on the next occassion. Sir James said that he hoped that I would NOT encourage that sort of behaviour. Naturally I gave him that assurance BUT I couldnt help feeling that we all knew that such behaviour was the most effective for men to ensure they are not excluded from the lives of their children. It seems this case may re-inforce that view.

  2. Nick Langford says:

    If the father in the case were really concerned about his children, perhaps he should relocate to the UK. Cases in which parents live in different countries are inevitably difficult, something parents really should consider before having children.

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