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Entries in contact (14)


Child health problems caused by court decisions

Dr VezzettiA wide-ranging review paper by Dr Vittorio Vezzetti published in Health Psychology Open documents the children's health problems that can result from inappropriate family court decisions.  Parental loss during parental separation can affect the wellbeing and health of young children.

His study looks at the impact of the traumatic experience of parental separation, which may only become apparent after 10, 20 or 30 years.  More than 10 million children in Europe are affected by parental separation.

After considering evidence from a wide range of international peer-reviewed studies, Dr Vezzetti considers how various European and United States legislatures make shared parenting decisions, concluding that it is necessary for the judges to take more account of the health impact on children of reducing or ending contact with one parent.


Radio Four drama on legal contact case feels true to life

A 45-minute drama of Radio Four felt very realistic, even if the case was set in the English courts and concerned a very particular aspect of child contact.

Behind Closed Doors  is set in the Family Courts where Harry, a sperm donor, is trying to get a court order to allow him to see 'his' daughter. Beth - the mother - is now in a lesbian relationship and would prefer Harry to keep his distance.

Harry offered to donate sperm so his lesbian friend and work colleague, Beth, could have a baby. After the birth Harry visited Beth and got to know baby Molly. For a time Beth was happy for Harry to visit but she never intended to have a relationship with him or for him to become involved with Molly as a father. Things went from bad to worse when Beth formed a relationship with Melanie and Harry felt he was completely excluded from seeing Molly. Now a judge has to decide whether Harry should have any contact rights.

Because of the English court setting, the court hearing involved a CAFCASS report and the father was representing himself (no legal aid in England).  But factors such as the judge telling parents that the case involves the interests of the child rather than their rights, the difference in the child's attitude to her father when interviewed away from the mother, and the mother's admission that her anxiety about contact could be affecting her daughter could have been copied straight from many of the cases we hear about at FNFS.  Well worth a listen.


Research explores child outcomes after parental separation

This report presents findings from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) of children born around 2000.  This study looked at data from 826 of these children who experienced parental separation at some point between the ages of 9 months and 7 years

It describes variations in contact between children and non-resident parents, and use of court for settling contact or financial arrangements.

Among children of separated parents, the results suggest that more contact with the non-resident parent was associated with better outcomes for children at age 11. 

The findings support existing evidence showing that children of separated parents have worse outcomes compared with children of parents who are still together. The findings also suggest that contact with the non-resident parent may mitigate against the negative effects of separation.

More contact with the non-resident parent was significantly associated with lower odds of the cohort child smoking and damaging things in public spaces (at the 10% and 5% level, respectively).

The results also indicate, although not to a significant extent, that more contact with the non-resident parent was associated with lower predicted probabilities of being noisy in public spaces, stealing from a shop and writing on buildings. On the other hand, more contact with the non-resident parent was also associated with a higher predicted probability of the cohort child drinking alcohol.

Overall the results showed that girls had statistically significantly more positive outcomes than boys on some measures.

As with the Growing Up in Scotland cohort study, the information in this study is obtained from the resident parent and so may not present the full picture, but the missing information is likely to present an even more positive view of contact.  These results can also be compared with Swedish whole population studies. Although this research is published by the English Ministry of Justice, the study covered the whole of the UK.


A "no contact" order requires substantial justification

A recent Court of Session judgement has overturned Sheriff Court and Sheriff Principal decisions to stop a father's contact with his daughter, returning the case to a different Sheriff for reconsideration.

The Sheriff had stopped all contact following the breakdown in relationship between the parents.  Lawyers for the mother also argued the father had made various allegations to social workers and medical professionals that his daughter had been ill treated. They argued there was a risk that he would continue to make such allegations. 

Before the original Sheriff Court case, the father had enjoyed substantial contact with his three year old daughter, both before and after separation from the mother. He had cared for his child three days per week while the mother was at work.

In the appeal, it was successfully argued that refusing further contact was a substantial interference in family life.  Lord Eassie in the judgement agreed with the submission that: "where a decision is taken to interfere in an existing, and in practical terms significant, family relationship between a parent and the child by, in substance, bringing that relationship to an end a careful balancing exercise requires to be carried out and factors require to be identified which clearly make that step necessary and justified in the paramount interest of the child."

This balancing exercise had not been carried out in the original hearing.

The Judges also considered that: "the approach of the sheriff in requiring that the defender identify a “concrete example” of a “discernable benefit” from continuing contact (and in dismissing the defender’s explanation of the benefit of contact by doing normal “father and daughter things”) is an approach which in itself largely sets aside the intrinsic value of the child’s having a relationship with both parents.  Doing “normal father and daughter things” is simply a part of a normal relationship between a female child and her father."

They also stated "... the sheriff’s conclusion that there was a risk of future emotional harm from the repeated making of spurious complaints respecting the child’s welfare in the future proceeds on relatively slender foundations."

It was therefore considered "... this is a case in which as an appellate court we should conclude that the sheriff has gone plainly wrong".

This Inner House decision can be referred to in other cases where contact has been stopped, and we await with interest the affect it may have on future court decisions.  Because this father had been refused legal aid for his appeals, he had lay representation in the Court of Session by Ian Maxwell of Families Need Fathers Scotland, using arguments which had been prepared by his original solicitor Billy Finlayson.


How a court can enforce contact orders

Following hard upon recent Scottish and English judgements concerning malicious allegations, child abduction and contempt of court, a judgement this week by HH Judge Newton in Manchester shows how essential it is for courts to take quick and firm action to restore contact arrangements.

FNF Scotland hopes that this marks a renewed determination by judges and sheriffs to hold parents firmly and swiftly to account when contact and residence orders are wilfully broken or undermined. 

In this case, a court order was made on 25th May 2015 for the Swedish-based father to have regular periods of direct and indirect contact with his children in England and to ensure that the children maintain their links with the Swedish part of their heritage.  The father was also trying to maintain their contact with the maternal grandfather, from whom their mother was estranged.

The case returned to court on 26th June 2015 because on 22nd May a planned ten-day contact visit in Sweden between the children and their father did not place as the result of an incident at Manchester Airport.  On 10th June the mother wrote to the court indicating that she was not intending to facilitate further contact between the children and their father.

The incident at Manchester Airport involved the mother and children turning up at 6pm for a 6.30 flight to Sweden (boarding closed at 6.10).  The resulting fracas as the father tried to board the flight with his children led to police intervention and a missed flight.

Commenting on the parent's accounts of this incident and other difficulties since the contact order, the Judge said: "I found the mother wholly unconvincing, both generally and specifically in relation to what happened on 22nd May 2015. Put bluntly, I am satisfied that she has lied.  The father was careful in his evidence. His warmth and concern for the children was readily apparent. I accept his evidence."

The context, summarised in the first paragraph of HH Judge Newton's findings, is regrettably common: " I am persuaded that, essentially, the mother does not value the father's contribution to the lives of the children and, in reality, would much prefer to be able to get on with life with her new husband and baby without what she sees as the intrusion of contact arrangements."

The judgment relates various ways in which the mother had sought to undermine contact, noting that " ... on the father's visits, whether in the UK or Sweden, the children are sent in, literally, the clothes in which they stand up and with their passports in their hand: no change of clothing, no favourite toys, nothing to cuddle, no books, not even a toothbrush. When the father visits the UK, he is obliged to bring those items with him on the plane from Sweden. The same situation applies even when the children stay with him for four weeks during summer holidays. The message this sends to the children as to the totally separate existences they have with each parent is deeply unfortunate and unhealthy."

Judge Newton comments: "This is a father who has much to offer his children. He has proved remarkably committed, making, I accept, 37 flights from Sweden to the UK last year alone to see his children. I find the mother's objections to contact ill-founded. Were I to accede to her submissions, it would give her yet further opportunity to attempt to undermine the children's relationship with their father and it would be extraordinarily difficult thereafter to reintegrate the father into the lives of the children."