This judgment was handed down on 18th May 2007. It consists of 35 pages and has been signed by the judge. On 16th July 2007 the judge gave leave for it to be reported.
The judgment is being distributed on the strict understanding that in any report no person other than those identified by name in the judgment itself may be identified by name or location and that in particular the anonymity of the child and the adult members of their family must be strictly preserved.
IN THE COVENTRY COUNTY COURT
B e f o r e :
Designated Family Judge for Warwickshire and Coventry
|R (by his guardian Mrs C A Alexander-Graham, instructed by NYAS)
Crown Copyright ©
'Despite the contact we observed at this office RH appears to get little joy out of this. He still views the current level of contact as useless as it is not the outcome he wanted. RH is so focused on what he believes has been taken away from him that he seems unable to take pleasure in the contact he has. He sees his future in his current home with R's residence secured with him. RH has described feelings of suicide in a recent letter to BK, which now raises in our minds concerns over possible ways in which RH's mental state may impact upon the child's welfare during unsupervised contact.'
'There are no psychological processes noted which would indicate that RH would not be able to appropriately care for his son on an overnight basis'.
There are, though, aspects of this report that resonate with concerns expressed by other professionals involved with this family over the last eight years. At paragraph 11.2 of his report, RB says that the father
' is likely to be seen by others as arrogant and narcissistic with traditional male role values. He may appear to be friendly and make a reasonable (sic) good impression. Over time, there may be attempts to dominate or manipulate in order to get whatever he wishes. He may have difficulties with interpersonal relationships as he may find it difficult to reach compromises or be in any way submissive. He may be considered by others to be opinionated, over-evaluate his own self-worth, and be unaware or have little insight into the consequences of his actions on others. He may also display a tendency to have difficulty completing projects that he starts, and display a low tolerance for frustration.'
At paragraphs 12.1 and 12.2, RB goes on to say that
'The only concern is RH's view of his ex-wife and how that may effect R. Whilst he has considerable ill-feeling towards his ex-wife, he noted in the assessment that he "has better things to do with my time" than make derogatory comments about his ex-wife to R. Nevertheless, his personality profile suggest (sic) an individual who make (sic) attempt to manipulate a situation to his benefit. To this end RH may find it beneficial to be afforded the opportunity to enter into a therapeutic relationship to explore the issues surrounding his ex-wife…'
It is now more than seven years since that recommendation was made. The father has not undergone, has not sought to obtain and sees no need to take steps to obtain the kind of therapeutic help proposed by RB.
'Certain elements of the personality profile as outlined by RB may be common among people who come before the Courts in this type of dispute, but based on my observation in RH's case they appear more evident and prevalent to a much more noticeable degree. The effect of this on a child of R's age could undermine the stability and security of his mother's care. We would ask the Court to consider curtailing contact and setting boundaries based on R's needs as we have little confidence in RH relating what he wants to the needs of the child.'
'[The mother] says that the clothes she packs for R are not used when he stays overnight with his dad, and according to the child his father changes his clothes and those clothes remain at his father's home and are only used for contact.'
'What remains of concern is that [the father] has a fixed view in respect of contact that has little to do with the needs of R…[The father] has made it clear to us that he will not accept advice from the Court Welfare Officers, or indeed the mother of the child, of whom he speaks in derogatory terms. It is likely that [the father] will involve the Court further if any slight adjustments to arrangements have to be made.'
'8.1 R's negative response to contact was not expected and therefore there had not been time to discuss his feelings with both parties. However, experience of this case would suggest that little would be gained, even if the parties were willing, for a joint meeting to take place. RH, it is anticipated, would not accept that some attention needs to be paid to how contact is carried out and certainly would not accept advice from [the mother].
8.2 It is therefore recognised that the interview with the child will pose something of a dilemma both to the parties and to the Court; certainly from what R indicated he is not coping very well with the current pattern of contact.
8.3 It is, in my view, too difficult for R to spend two nights away from his mother at this time, he clearly misses her and may wish to protect her from further arguments. RH is unlikely to agree with any reduction in contact and the Court may need to adjudicate on this matter.'
'[The father] said that it was true that the C.S.A had contacted him although he was unsure why...'
'[The father's] ability to respond emotionally to R is, we believe, limited as he is in our experience an emotionally distant person who finds it very difficult to see things from other people's standpoint and to understand that sometimes it may be difficult for R to move between his two parents, given the hostility that [the father] continues to feel against [the mother].'
Mrs W goes on to acknowledge that, in the light of the earlier psychological assessment, 'it may well be [that the father] is not able to respond in any other way, however we do find [the father] able to manipulate situations to attempt to prove his point, to the detriment of R.'
'the situation between the parties will not change, [the father] has made it very clear at interview that he will continue to approach the Court until he gets the level of contact that he judges is right for R, he sees no problem for the child involved in repeated applications.'
That opinion was made more than four years after the first application to the court. Just by looking at the history of events over those four and a half years it is clear that that opinion was fully justified. Sadly, consideration of the father's behaviour since the date of that report confirms that Mrs W' opinion was accurate in every respect.
'Contact is referred to by father…as a legalistic requirement with sanctions for failure to comply. Not only does this show a total failure of father to see the opportunity to express his love for his son, it also carries an implied threat against the mother and is manipulative on father's part…
Father is extremely hostile towards mother and very suspicious of her. He sees himself as a victim, long-suffering at the hands of the mother and of the CAFCASS service. He sees only what it suits him to see and completely shuts out anything which is adverse to him or displeases him…
Father is manipulative. He wrote letters to court on an earlier occasion professing suicidal feelings, which he did not have, in an attempt, he later admitted, to gain the sympathy of the court. He has no regard for the potential effects of his actions on others and in particular his child…
I am in no doubt that father is an intelligent man and a manipulative one, who will say whatever suits him regardless of whether that undermines the child's security in his own home or undermines his relationship with his mother or causes the child confusion. I believe that father is presenting this child with emotional danger…
I am satisfied that mother has always tried to make contact work even when her better judgment thought it was not in the child's interests…
This child is not happy with contact as it currently takes place. More than that: he is becoming deeply unhappy with it, to the extent that he is prepared to face his father and say so…If contact is not to fail altogether in the longer term, its format must be radically reviewed now in the hope that the difficulties can be identified and ironed out…'
'ability to respond emotionally to R's needs is very limited, he has no capacity to view the situation from R's point of view, he will only accept his own interpretation of events, and is likely to continue to approach the Court and appeal against any decisions made unless they are in keeping with his own wishes.'
In short, yet another year on and still nothing had changed.
'I am quite satisfied that father finds it very difficult or refuses (I know not which) to look at a situation realistically. He does not listen to the child when he expresses his views, to the mother if she expresses a view which is contrary to his own, or to the CAFCASS officers…I do not believe that he is concerned for the child. I believe that he is obsessed to achieve a goal, and that goal is to obtain something which he believes is opposed…
Because of the father's rejection of all views but his own the prospects of his behaviour changing are remote as he sees no need to change his attitude…
I had the very distinct impression that father regarded the occasions of contact as his due and that he was intent, wherever he thought it possible, to enforce what he thought were his rights. That is a very sad misunderstanding by father of the real purpose of contact, which is for the benefit of the child…
I find that there is a danger to the relationship between the father and the son if the father does not begin to listen to what the child says and accept that those are his true views, and adapt his own demands for contact to accommodate the feelings, wishes and social life of his son…
I am very concerned as to potential emotional harm for [R]. It is a great burden on a child to have to live two separate lives, one with his father and one with his mother, and it is plain that that is what this child is having to do…
I am very concerned also that father appears to have no appreciation of the effect on the child of bringing matters back to court time after time after time. The inevitable tensions it raises in the household, the child cannot fail to pick up, and that will become more and more the case…
I am satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of R to provide for overnight contact.'
'[The father] was invited to an individual interview on the 24/01/2005. [The father], upon receipt of our letter of invite, wrote refusing to attend…[He] was written to a second time highlighting the change of officer. [He] still chose not to attend the appointment offered.'
'R was asked specifically if he would like overnight contact, as he didn't raise it. R immediately answered "no" and needed some reassurance to relax him that we were only enquiring as to his view. R was aware his father wanted overnight contact to occur and said that he himself had told his father he didn't wish for it.'
Ms A returns to this issue at paragraph 7.5 of her report. She there says
'Whilst there is no indication R has, or is likely to suffer physical harm, we hold concerns as to his emotional welfare. As a young child R was exposed to domestic violence between his parents, and [the mother] continues to feel intimidated and bullied by [the father], particularly through this process. [The father's] action of continually returning issues before the court serves to intimidate [the mother] and impact upon R. This service has real concern as to [the father's] motivation in making applications.'
'Emotionally R appears to be managing very well considering the tensions between his parents. We do have some concern however for the long-term potential of his emotional relationship with [the father]. [The father] is portrayed in reports, and by [the mother] as emotionally detached, and we are left with some questions as to the emotional bonds and attachments that will then exist between father and son. The existence of strong bonds will be essential for the long-term survival of a healthy parent/child relationship. Once R is of an age whereby peers hold more interest than [his father], without a significant emotional bond it is unlikely R will continue to visit.'
'This Service remains concerned for R's long-term emotional relationship with [the father]. Previous reports and [the mother] describe [the father] as emotionally detached. Having now met with [the father] we would share this view. In discussion [the father] spoke of "the child", "the mother" and "the parents". [He] was unable to consider the potential for R and himself to enjoy quality time together within the current contact arrangements…From meeting with [the father] it would already appear that R and [the father] are unable to sustain a one to one relationship and that R only enjoys contact, which involves the extended family…Having met with R and [the father] this Service remains of the view that R is strongly opposed to any such increase [in contact[. We do not consider having met with [the father] that overnights will improve the direct relationship between father and son. Given R's negative reaction to it we consider it would offer no benefit to R but may compound existing difficulties…Whilst we believe [the father] is capable of meeting R's physical needs he is not capable of meeting R's emotional needs. [The father] himself has stated that the "father and son relationship is at a virtual end". By his own admission [the father] is not able to entertain or enjoy daytime contact with R merely spending time together.'
The father's evidence
'Contact should happen on alternate weekends. One weekend staying contact the other weekend daily contact. It is what the child wants and it is all in the best interests of the child. The Guardians proposals are speculation just like the proposals by Cafcass officers. Three different judges have dismissed the evidence by Cafcass officers and ordered staying contact in this case over the last 8 years.'
'I have highlighted 12 counts of purjruy (sic) she has put her hand on the holly (sic) bible and sworn on oath, to tell the truth. But she has lied on purpose to make money and take me to the cleaners. To rip me off and con me out of thousands of pounds. The next 8 pages are hard rock solid evidence that she is a con women (sic), a money hungary (sic) gold digger, and it proves that putting her under oath and hoping her to tell the truth will never happen at all what so ever. Any thing she has to say about anything and every thing will be a lie. Nothing that come out of her mouth will be the truth. Nothing that she says in writing will be the truth.'
'Going to court over the last 7 years gives me great joy. In fact it gives me more of a buzz than sex. During the last 7 years I have beaten the following people in court: the mother of the child, the mother's solicitors, the mother's barrister and around three different district judges. It is fair to say that I am one hell of a man. I am Jim Garrison out of JFK. I have never paid a court fee. The money you stole of (sic) me in March 2000 it went all to your solicitor in fees. I am very happy and glad. I did not lose my house to you but I did lose it to TL your solicitor.'
The father said that the mother had been making sarcastic comments about him and that in writing this letter he was just trying to wind her up. I have no doubt that he was trying to wind her up. I equally have no doubt that the sentiments he expresses are illustrative of the true motivation for his repeated applications to the court.
'On the whole R lives in disgrace and poverty. It is all the mothers fault…[the area where you live]…is a shit whole (sic) of a dump. The area is the lowest of the low. The area is full of losers and very poor people. BK it is fair to say that you are not made for mother-hood and you clearly can not cope…R has gone from riches to rags big time…starting 17.01.99 the date we separated…By the time R finishes his education and starts work he will end up with a shit job…It is in your best interest to let R live with me his dad. I can give him a bedroom and send him to a good school to give him an education. Get R out of poverty and back to riches…Me the dad of R comes from a family of winners. We are private landlords and own a number of houses…In August 1999 Judge Deeley gave the mother a residence court order. By doing so she condemned R life to strong poverty and disgrace. R has gone from riches to rags big time…[your home] is a very tiny small toy house located in a shit hole of a dump.
The mother's evidence
The guardian's evidence
'appears to have a close relationship with all members of his maternal family. He supplied me with all their names and the correct spellings, and he could tell me about their interests and personalities…[However] he did not seem to have the same closeness with any member of his paternal family, including his father. For example, he did not know the first names of his paternal grandparents, and he did not know any of his father's interests. R knew the names of the cousins he sometimes stays with on overnight contacts, but he was not clear about their ages.'
'With regard to visiting contact, [the father] has quite often chosen not to take up this contact, with the result that contact has mainly taken place on a monthly basis rather than every fortnight. R has told me that he does not look forward to this contact, nor feel excited about it. He feels neutral about it.'
'lack of capacity to meet any of R's emotional needs. In interviews with myself, he has been unwilling to listen to R's wishes, and has insisted that R is manipulated by his "bitter and twisted mother", and that she and the Court system have prevented him from having a relationship with his son. [The father] is unable to relate to R on an emotional or personal level, despite regular contact over the years. I am shocked about how little father and son know about each other…R is an avid Liverpool supporter, but he did not know if his father knew this, or which team his father supported, if any. Neither did he know if his father had ever worked, or at what job, or if he had ever been on holiday.'
The guardian goes on to say that she is
'saddened by all the wasted opportunities which [the father] has had to forge a close enduring bond with his son, none of which he seems to have taken advantage of.'
'51…has suffered emotional harm in that he was distressed during a recent staying contact, and he was unable to seek reassurance from his father or any of the other adults present, because he has an insufficient connection with them.
52. R is also at risk of emotional harm due to his father's attitude towards his mother, which has been expressed to me very forcefully. At present, there is no evidence that either parent makes derogatory comments about the other parent to R, but [the father] holds [the mother], her life, and R's life in such contempt, that there is always a risk that R will perceive his father's attitudes, and be upset by them.
53. In my view, R has suffered emotional harm due to the continual applications to the Court. His wish, over and above to win the lottery, or Liverpool Football Team to win the league, is for the applications to cease for ever. R worries about what will happen at Court, and his biggest fear is that he will have to see his father more often than he can cope with.'
'shares all of the concerns noted in the past, and from my observations and enquiries, it would seem there has been no improvement in [the father's] willingness or ability to forge a close bond with R, and he has shown no capacity to meet R's emotional needs. This is all the more a tragic situation given R's personality, and his polite and positive nature…
The father/son relationship is of a very poor quality, in my view, despite very regular contact over seven years, and the responsibility for this lies at the door of [the father], not the Courts or [the mother]. There is no evidence whatsoever, of any manipulation of R by his mother, or any imposition of a negative view of contact…
It is my impression when speaking with R that he does not really have faith in the Court system, and he fears his views will be ignored. This is likely to stem from 2005 when he was very clear with the Cafcass Officers that he did not want overnight stays, and the eventual Final Order included four occasions of two night stays with his father. Also, during these Proceedings he has felt coerced to have a longer staying contact than he wished, although he has been grateful to the Court for agreeing to reduce the contact to one night only.'
'69…this should only go ahead if R is happy for it to proceed and [the father] will need to use his best endeavours to ensure that R feels secure enough in his care to relax, and sleep well.'
The guardian goes on to recommend that there be a further section 91(14) order to last until R is sixteen.
'The court system for dealing with contact disputes has serious faults…Parents must, however, take their share of responsibility for the state of affairs they have created. Blaming the system, as the father does in this case, is no answer. He must shoulder his share of the responsibility for the state of affairs he has helped to bring about. All the evidence is that he has proved incapable of doing so.'
Those observations apply with equal force to this father.
'The courts recognise the critical importance of the role of both parents in the lives of their children. The courts are not anti-father and pro-mother or vice versa. The court's task, imposed by Parliament in s 1 of the Children Act 1989, in every case is to treat the welfare of the child or children concerned as paramount, and to safeguard and promote the welfare of every child to the best of its ability.'
'Unless there are cogent reasons against it, the children of separated parents are entitled to know and have the love and society of both their parents. In particular, the courts recognise the vital importance of the role of non-resident fathers in the lives of their children, and only make orders terminating contact when there is no alternative.'
However, there is research evidence indicating that an approach that assumes that contact is almost always in the interests of the child is misconceived. One academic, Joan Hunt, has noted that 'Research does not, as is often said, show that contact is good for children. Rather, it says that children benefit where they enjoy good relationships with supportive parents who are able to protect them from their own conflicts.' The recent proposals made by the Family Justice Council in its Report to the President of the Family Division on the approach to be adopted by the Court when asked to make a contact order by consent, where domestic violence has been an issue in the case' recommends that 'A cultural change is required with a move away from "contact is always the appropriate way forward" to "contact that is safe and positive for the child is always the appropriate way forward". The key words are 'safe' and 'positive'.