Warring parents urged to see the bigger picture in relation to contact


In a recent Court of Appeal judgement Lord Justice McFarlane has urged parents to be aware of the potentially harmful effects of protracted contact disputes on their children. He stressed that both parents have a duty to promote contact with the other parent to ensure their child’s needs are met.

Family Law Separation Child Contact

In this case a father had been denied contact with his two children in an earlier county court decision following the mother giving evidence that promoting contact would be "too exhausting" for her. A psychologist giving evidence in the case had confirmed that the mother’s opposition to contact was so strong that she would be unable to promote contact in a positive way for the children. Over the course of the proceedings the mother had made numerous accusations of intimidating and inappropriate behaviour by the father towards her but only one had been upheld by the court. There had been a recommendation that the mother and the children undergo a therapeutic programme to prepare them for the recommencement of contact but the mother had refused to engage in this process.

The father appealed this decision and the Court of Appeal accepted that too much weight had been given by the court to the mother’s evidence, which although it appeared to be genuine it was also self-serving. Lord Justice McFarlane stated that where it was "plainly in the best interests of a child to spend time with the other parent then, tough or not, part of the responsibility of the parent with care must be the duty and responsibility to deliver what the child needs, hard though that may be."

The judge acknowledged that the emotional impact on both parents had impacted on contact and prevented it happening in a positive way however, expressed the view that "it is not, at face value, acceptable for a parent to shirk that responsibility and simply say 'no' to reasonable strategies designed to improve the situation in this regard."

Helen Doolan, a family law specialist at Simpson Millar, welcomes the comments made by the Court of Appeal, "The Children Act 1989 makes it clear that the children are the most important people in decisions surrounding residence and contact. This judgment gives clear guidance that where possible a child should have contact with both parents." At Simpson Millar we appreciate that family breakdowns are extremely difficult on all parties involved and that negotiations around contact provisions need to be dealt with sensitively to promote the best chances of success.

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