It is, of course, normally accepted that it is in the best interests of a child that they have a full relationship with both parents, who should be fully involved with their upbringing. However, in very exceptional cases the court can take measures that effectively sever the ties between a parent and a child.
PM v CF, recently decided by Mr Justice Keehan in the High Court, was such a case.
The facts in PM v CF were as follows. The parents had been in a relationship, but were not married. They had two children, ‘A’, who is five years of age, and ‘B’, who is four years of age. The father had parental responsibility for A (presumably because he was named as the father on her birth certificate), but not for B.
The mother alleged that the father had seriously abused her over an extensive period of time. This culminated in a serious sustained assault upon her by the father in December 2015, for which the father was sentenced to forty-two months imprisonment. In March 2016 the mother obtained an indefinite restraining order against the father. Very shortly afterwards, he breached the restraining order by telephoning the mother from prison. The mother made various other allegations against the father, some of which he admitted, including threatening to do a ‘Raoul Moat’ style killing of the mother upon his release from prison.
The risk posed to the mother and the children by the father was considered to be so great that the authorities took the very rare step of accepting them onto the United Kingdom Protected Persons Scheme, and they were moved to a confidential address, where they remain.
In the light of all of this the mother applied to the court for three orders in respect of the children. First, that the father’s parental responsibility in respect of A be terminated. Secondly, that she have permission to change the forename and surnames of both children. Thirdly, that the court make an order preventing the father from making any application in respect of the children without permission of the court first being obtained, such order to last for the duration of the whole of the girls’ respective minorities.
The father’s position by the time the application reached court was as follows. He did not agree to the termination of his parental responsibility for A but did not oppose it. He sought contact with the children, limited to indirect contact by way of letters, perhaps only annually, between him and the children. He sought information to be given to him periodically on how the children were faring – it was suggested that he at least be notified if the children suffered a life-threatening illness or suffered a life-threatening injury. He agreed to the change of names, but he submitted that the restriction upon him making any application in respect of the children without permission of the court be limited, to three or five years.
The application fell to be heard by Mr Justice Keehan. I will deal with his findings in respect of each part of the mother’s application, and the father’s case, in turn.
In respect of the parental responsibility issue, this was straightforward, as it was not opposed by the father. The father’s parental responsibility for A would be terminated.
In respect of the change of name issue, this was also straightforward, as it was agreed by the father. The mother was given permission to change both the forenames and surnames of both of the girls.
In respect of the restriction upon the making any application in relation to the children without permission of the court, Mr Justice Keehan found that the risk that the father posed to the mother and the children, and the mother’s vulnerability and fear of the father making future contact with her, either in person, indirectly or via a court application, was such that a limited period for the duration of the order was not in the welfare best interests of the children. The only order which would ensure the protection of the mother, and thereby the protection of the children, and certainly promote the welfare best interests of the children was that he make an order for the whole of the respective minorities of A and B.
Turning to the father’s case, Mr Justice Keehan accepted that the father had no pre-existing relationship with either of the children. In view of this, to permit him even to have indirect contact by letter or card on an annual basis ran the risk of having an adverse impact upon the mother, and of destabilising her and thereby adversely affecting the children. The father’s contact application was therefore dismissed.
Finally, there was the question of providing the father with information about the children. The mother submitted that the only matter of which he should be informed was the sad event of the death of either of the children. Mr Justice Keehan said that at one point he considered it to be almost inhumane if the father were not notified of any life-threatening illness that the children were suffering. However, he was persuaded, given the extreme vulnerability of the mother, that were she to have to endure the awful event of one or both of the girls suffering a life-threatening illness or sustaining a life-threatening injury and that she then had to contemplate arranging for that information to be passed to the father, it would simply be too much for her, and therefore would have an adverse impact upon the wellbeing of the girls. In his judgment this was not a risk the court should take, because it was not in the welfare best interests of the children. In any event, there was little or nothing that the father could do with such information, and therefore there was no ultimate benefit to him being given such information. Accordingly, the information to be provided to the father about the girls was to be limited to the possible future event where one or other of them died.
It should be emphasised that, as was made clear in the judgment, such orders are draconian, and will only be made in truly exceptional circumstances. No parent reading this should be encouraged to seek to cut the other parent out of the lives of their children unless the circumstances in their case are similarly exceptional. For example, whilst domestic abuse will most certainly be taken into account by a court considering arrangements for children, it will not of itself normally mean that the abusing parent should be completely excluded from the children’s lives.
You can read Mr Justice Keehan’s full judgment here.