When parents decide to separate, disputes often arise regarding the care of the children. Where separating parents are unable to agree arrangements for the children between themselves, or where arrangements break down, relations between them can deteriorate and turn hostile very quickly and this type of hostility between parents can be damaging to the children.
As a last resort where parties are unable to agree between themselves, court proceedings may need to be issued and the court has powers to intervene where it considers that a child is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of hostility between the parents. The court’s paramount consideration when making decisions relating to the arrangements for a child will always be the child’s welfare. This will outweigh any other consideration of the court, including the parents’ best interests and wishes. Research shows that children do better when they have a relationship with both parents and only in very exceptional circumstances will the court consider it not in the best interests of the child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. The courts have acknowledged that sometimes it is necessary to change a child’s living arrangements and remove the child from a hostile parent.
In a recent case (Re A (A child)  EWCA Civ 910) the mother was labelled ‘implacably hostile’ by the court as she was entirely unwilling to allow the child to have contact with the father. The mother had developed a view that the father posed a danger to the welfare of the child and, sadly, the child shared the mother’s view as he had been indoctrinated to believe by the mother that the father was a danger to him. The child had previously had a good relationship with the father, however the mother’s hostility had alienated the child from the father to such extent that by the time the matter came before the court when the child was 12 years old, the child did not wish to have any contact whatsoever with the father. Sadly, the court was left with no option but to refuse the father’s application for contact as the child was clear in his views that he did not want to see his father and it was found that the child would suffer harm if contact was ordered due to him having absorbed the mother’s view that his father was dangerous. The court upheld an order for no direct contact and allowed limited indirect contact only. However the court stressed that in most cases it is in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents. In those cases, the parent with care of the child has a duty and responsibility to ensure that contact with the other parent happens, hard though this may be for the parent with care. The court stressed that it is not acceptable for a parent to refuse to allow contact with the other parent where contact would be in the child’s best interests.
Our family law solicitors provide specialist advice in all areas of family law, including arrangements for children. If you would like to discuss how we can help you please contact one of our expert solicitors on 0161 941 4000.