A recent Family Court judgment provides warring parents with a warning about the possible effect of their actions upon their children, and what the court might do to protect the children’s welfare.
The case concerned three children, one aged 8 and the other two aged 6. As the judge explained at the beginning of his judgment, their parents had been locked in litigation about their welfare for more than two-and-a-half years – a very substantial share of each of their young lives.
The judge continued:
“Their parents find common ground on almost nothing about the history of their relationship or anything about the children’s welfare. They present to the court a voluminous list of issues, touching on almost every part of the children’s lives. The sad reality of this situation, the court will find, is that each of the parents has compromised their children’s best interests and there is a very real risk each will continue to do so.”
It is not necessary here to go into the details of the case, or the issues that the court was (on this occasion) being asked to determine. Suffice to say that the court decided that it had to take steps to protect the children from the harmful effects of their parent’s litigious behaviour.
And the way to do that was to make orders barring the parents from making any further applications to the court in relation to the arrangements for their children, without first obtaining the permission of the court to make the application.
When considering whether to make barring orders the judge looked at the behaviour of the father and the mother.
As to the father, the judge said that he had engaged in what he called ‘lawfare’. He said that the father’s behaviour was oppressive. He considered that he was superior in his parenting to the mother, and would very likely issue applications to vary the court’s orders in very short order when the point arrived where he believed the mother had fallen short of his standards.
As to the mother, the judge found that she did not fully accept the importance of the father in the children’s lives, and she was also likely to issue further applications to reduce the children’s time with the father when they communicated even trivial levels of unhappiness, or she believed the orders had run their course.
The children had been subject to a high level of emotional harm through the proceedings, the objects of the parents’ conflict. Any further proceedings would likely be significantly harmful to their emotional wellbeing, going beyond the usual acrimony in cases of this kind.
In the circumstances the judge found that the children’s welfare required that he make barring orders against both parents, restricting their abilities to make further applications to the court in relation to the arrangements for the children. The orders would last for long enough for the children to complete two full academic years of school, that being the least amount of time they would need to move on from the conflict they had faced.
The lesson from this judgment is quite clear: when sorting out arrangements for your children you should make every reasonable effort to avoid conflict. You may hold strong views about what is best for your children, but that does not necessarily mean that your way is the only way. Parental conflict is likely to do more harm to your children than anything.
And do not make repeated applications to the court unless absolutely necessary. If you do, then the court may take steps to prevent your children suffering further harm.
The full judgment in the case can be read here.
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