The vast majority of mothers recognise that their children thrive best when they have a positive relationship with both their parents – but there are sadly those who are implacably opposed to paternal contact. A High Court case, however, strikingly underlined the consequences of such intransigence.
The case concerned three children whose parents separated when they were very young. Their mother had strongly resisted every attempt by their father to have contact with them. She had made grave allegations of domestic and sexual abuse against him, all of which were rejected by a judge.
She had threatened to abduct the children abroad and, although she had been found in contempt of various court orders, she had yet to be punished for her wrongdoing. The oldest child in particular was reluctant to see his father, but the latter asserted that that was due to the mother’s efforts to alienate his children from him.
Following a hearing, however, a family judge ruled that the father should not see his children face-to-face and that his indirect contact with them should be restricted to letters, cards, gifts and photos no more than four times a year. Noting the extreme difficulty of establishing direct contact and the potential emotional harm that that process might cause to the children, the judge found that, given their youth at the date of separation, the father had never really had a relationship with them.
Ruling on the father’s challenge to the judge’s decision, the Court recognised that the issue of contact was highly stressful for the children, particularly as their mother had set her face against it. Whilst she had disobeyed some court orders, she had obeyed others, and the behaviour of the father had sometimes been wanting.
Upholding his appeal, however, the Court noted that judges should be reluctant to allow the implacable hostility of one parent to frustrate the contact rights of the other. In the long term, the children were likely to benefit from seeing their father and not enough had been done to see whether direct contact might be made to work. The Court directed a further hearing of the father’s application for direct contact.