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.