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Father fails to overturn an order for no direct contact

The case PA v CK & Others contains so many classic issues and facts typical of a protracted contact dispute: almost unrelenting litigation, ‘custodial’ parent in a new relationship, child ‘alienated’ against ‘non-custodial’ parent, ‘non-custodial’ parent refusing to accept findings against him, numerous attempts by the court and various professionals to resolve matters, but without success. And so on. The case also contains one rather unhappy fact that is not so typical, which I will come to in a moment.

The judgment of Mr Justice Cohen in the case relates to an application by the father for permission to appeal against an order that he have no direct contact with his nine-year-old daughter, ‘H’. The order also dealt with applications by the father for a suspended change of residence order and an order making it clear that H’s surname was his surname, not the mother’s married surname. Those applications were refused, but the father was not granted permission to appeal against those refusals.

The background to the case is that H’s parents lived together from 2003 until 2011, finally separating in 2012. By early 2013 the mother was in a relationship with another man, who she has since married. She has had a child by her new husband and is expecting another.

H has remained with her mother since her parents separated. “It is a very sad fact”, said Mr Justice Cohen, “that since 2013, almost without cease, the parties have been involved in litigation so that there have been five years of the most conflicted litigation with H at the centre of it.” How often have we heard something like this? Of course, some would say that the blame lies with the family justice system for not resolving the matter sooner, and I’m sure in many cases there is some truth in that, but to suggest that no blame lies with the parents would be naïve indeed. As we will see, neither parent, in this case, escapes criticism.

In 2013 the Telford Magistrates’ Court made an order for supervised contact, and also made a series of findings against the father which Mr Justice Cohen summarised “as being of bizarre or controlling behaviour.” The father, he said, had been much criticised in the litigation for his failure to accept those findings, and it was plain that he still did not accept the bulk of them.

The supervised contact apparently went quite well, but in 2015 the mother and her new husband issued an application to adopt H. This is the unhappy fact that I referred to above. As Mr Justice Cohen explained, the mother and her husband clearly sought by the application

“to extinguish the father’s parental responsibility for H and remove him from any role in her life.”

He went on to call the application ‘misconceived’, but I would probably use stronger language. To attempt to deny a child her natural parent in this way is appalling. Thankfully, the mother and her husband subsequently withdrew the application, although the father said that by that time “much damage had been done”.

Moving on, the father’s contact with H broke down in February 2017, when H refused to get out of the car to see him. As a result, there has been no direct contact since January 2017.

The case eventually went before the court in January this year. As indicated, the judge refused the father’s application for a suspended residence order (which Mr Justice Cohen also criticised as being “unrealistic”), and made an order for indirect contact only, by Skype/telephone, letters and gifts.

The father sought to appeal.

“The problem in this case”, said Mr Justice Cohen

“is that there has been five years of litigation, huge ill will, multiple attempts at therapeutic interventions, the involvement of many professionals, and a complete lack of progress, and H has been caught in the middle of this conflict. It is not easy to see the way forward. H, inevitably, has sided with those with whom she is living.”

He went on:

“The prospect of yet more highly conflictual litigation between these parents, with H in the middle, would in all probability be deeply damaging to H and cause further difficulty in her resuming a relationship with her father.”

In any event, he found that there was no basis on which he could or should find that the judge was wrong. Accordingly, the father was refused permission to appeal.

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. Helen Dudden says:

    This is so sad. I think this situation highlights the problem with a relationship breakdown, and the intense feelings that go with it.
    For H, I have sympathy. What ever is done and said to end up in this situation, where the main loser is H.

    Her father, is still her father.

    I sometimes wonder if this situation will ever find a solution. Personally, I have felt great disquiet, watching one person destroy another. Speaking from experience.

  2. Terry james Scales says:

    This is horrific, it’ inhumane to deny a father the right to see his child, it’s perpendicular to a man’s biological predisposition, the problem is rooted in an ideology that promotes the idea that men are disposable, have no feelings, worries or concerns.
    I’m extremely tired of this pernicious paradigm that exists in our culture today.
    We need to stop destroying fathers and children’s lives by sanding away there role in their child’s life.

  3. Spike Robinson says:

    John, you rightly lament the attempt to use the courts to remove a natural parent from the life of a child and yet this is precisely what has happened in this case. I can well believe that if I was the father in this case, faced with this kind of outrageous behaviour from the mother, I would also behave in ways that could be mischaracterised as “controlling” – often all that means is “resisting efforts to alienate a child and not giving up”.

    The courts need to stop being the weapon in the hands of parents who believe is not just their property but their exclusive property. Any parent who behaves like the mother did in this case needs custody removed on principle.

  4. Seriously says:

    Clearly the mother is alienating/ manipulating the poor father (the targeted parent ) she and her newer partner later marry and wish to adopt to remove permanently the poor girls father. Disgusting , clearly any parent who wishes to eradicate the other is hurting their child and if that isn’t recognised then they should lose custody of that child for the child’s sake and live with a well adjusted parent.
    If a mother can make such awful decisions regarding the welfare of her child then she will most likely repeat this with the subsequent new partner , I have personal experience of such repeated actions by such parents, it’s about time things changed for the benefit of the children who have to go through life with the loss of a natural and loving parent . No wonder child and adolescent mental health has deteriorated.

  5. yvie says:

    You are exactly right Seriously. I have witnessed this happening too. Two separate Court actions eventually leading to shared residence. Sorted you would think. Not so. One child subsequently alienated aged 15, the second child alienated aged 13. Previously they had a happy and loving relationship with their dad. What motivates a parent to slowly and relentlessly eradicate a father from the lives of his children and try to convince them that their stepfather is a far better father then their natural father.. Is it because the alternator hates the father more than she loves the children or is it just because she has remarried and it is more convenient to erase the father and move on with a new partner. What sort of mother would teach her children that it is acceptable behaviour to dismiss without a backward glance, a father, grandparents, and other family members. who have cared for them and loved them over many years. Unfortunately when the children reach a certain age the Court does not become involved and so you can only stand by and watch the destruction of a once happy family by a determined alternator.

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