The case JD & Another v VB & Others: “In the battle between the parents, both children risk being run over by the tanks”.
So begins the mammoth judgment of His Honour Judge Dancey in the recent children case JD & Another v VB & Others, the latest judgment following nearly 7 years of almost continuous litigation concerning an 8–year-old girl referred to as ‘A’. The quotation is from a report prepared by a psychologist in the case way back in August 2015.
I don’t usually like to use emotive words like ‘battle’ to describe a family dispute, but as the judge himself uses the word, it is clearly appropriate here.
Least worst outcome
As I said, it is a mammoth judgment in case of JD & Another v VB & Others. Judge Dancey makes no apology for its length, saying:
“If there is one thing everyone is agreed on, this litigation needs to come to an end for the sake of A and all the adults involved in it. To do that needs a robust judgment that is complete as it can be. I have decided that the history of the litigation needs to be dealt with in some detail to explain how we have got to where we are. Also the judgment may be helpful to those working with the family and, most particularly, in any life story work done with A. And it is important for the adults involved who will need to find a strategy to promote A’s best interests and convert what is now a least worst outcome into something better for her.”
The judgment actually concerned a re-hearing on the question whether to vary an order for direct contact between A and her mother and 18-year-old half-sister, ‘B’. But that is not really what I want to talk about here. As Judge Dancey says, this is fundamentally a case about failed parenting. What I want to discuss, therefore, albeit in brief summary, is that awful history, which has surely caused enormous harm not only to A but also to her half-sister. Hopefully, it might provide a lesson for any other parents involved in a dispute over arrangements for their children.
A’s parents were in a relationship from about 2009 until January 2013, when they separated. A remained living with the mother and B, the child of the mother’s previous relationship.
In February 2013, when A was just 20 months old, the father applied for contact. Contact orders were made in August 2013 and January 2014, but the mother applied in May 2014 to vary them as, according to her, A was showing fear and distress around contact. The father applied to transfer the care of A to him.
In April 2014 the mother alleged that the father had behaved sexually inappropriately towards both B and A, as a result of which the father’s contact was suspended. And so began the case’s awful downward spiral.
The mother’s allegations were dismissed by the court, after the District Judge found the mother’s evidence “very unsatisfactory”, and doubted that she had a genuine belief in B’s allegations.
As mentioned, a psychologist reported in 2015. He described B as “the most damaged young person I have ever assessed”.
At a hearing in December 2015, the District Judge was “overwhelmingly satisfied” that A’s welfare required that she should live with the father and his wife, and accordingly made an order transferring residence of A to the father. The mother was to have supervised contact. A duly moved to live with her father and has been there ever since.
The mother sought permission to appeal against the transfer of residence, and the dispute between the parents continued. At one point the father accused the mother of telling parents of other children that he was a paedophile.
The mother withdrew her application for permission to appeal, but in June 2016 applied to vary the child arrangements order, with a view to A moving back to live with her. B repeated the allegations that the father had been physically and sexually abusive towards her. In the event, faced with an adverse report from the guardian, the mother did not attend the hearing of her application.
At this point, I must skip ahead, in order to keep this post to a reasonable length. Suffice to say that the litigation continued pretty well unabated.
Following a five day hearing on the issue of contact between A and her mother and B in November 2017, the judge agreed with the guardian that there was no strategy that would achieve safe, workable and beneficial direct contact. Accordingly, he made an order for indirect contact only. The mother appealed, and her appeal was allowed. The case was therefore remitted for re-hearing, before Judge Dancey.
B renewed her allegations to the police. The police investigated and decided to take no action.
The father complained that the allegations and ceaseless litigation were damaging his mental health. The father and stepmother failed to attend hearings, leading Judge Dancey to express concerns over “what appeared to be a continued and entrenched position of non-engagement by the father and stepmother.”
There were also allegations of parental alienation by the father, as there had been against the mother prior to the transfer of residence. However, Judge Dancey preferred to see this as a case of implacable hostility or intractability, both by the mother in 2015 and the father and stepmother now.
Judge Dancey heard the case over six days in January. He found that whilst A would benefit from direct contact with her mother, that would risk further deterioration of the father’s mental health. Accordingly, he ordered that indirect contact only should continue. He also made an order that no further application should be made in relation to A for four years, without the leave of the court.
The case JD & Another v VB & Others has an extremely sad history, which has surely had a serious adverse effect upon both children. The moral is clear: when the parents engage in open warfare, the children are the losers.
If you wish to read the judgment on case JD & Another v VB & Others, all 503 paragraphs of it, you can find it here