Supporting an older child’s wishes regarding parental contact

Mike acted for the respondent Mother in a case concerning the Father’s application for a Child Arrangements Order (contact) in respect of one child. The parties had separated when their child was quite young, and whilst the Mother and child remained in Kent, the Father moved away.

The Mother claimed that the father had not wanted the child, and had left all the day to day child care to her and that she had been effectively a single parent prior to the parties separating, resulting in there being no meaningful relationship between father and child. The father’s decision to move away also made contact arrangements difficult, which did not help to improve the relationship.

Prior to issuing his application, the Father was having visiting contact only once every six weeks. These visits took place in Kent, as the Mother would not agree to any overnight staying contact or to any contact in the Father’s home county, on the basis that the child was opposed to such contact taking place. She maintained that she wanted the child to have a good relationship with the father but that it was the child who did not want any increased contact or to visit the Father’s home.

The Father’s case, on the other hand, was that Mike’s client, who had formed a new relationship, did not want him her life and, despite purporting to support and encourage contact, had over the years influenced the child to the point that contact could not be progressed beyond very limited visiting contact.

The court directed a S.7 report by Cafcass. The report confirmed that the child was articulate and well able to give an informed view regarding wishes and feelings which were the child’s own and not the Mother’s .The report also confirmed that the Mother did support contact, but in accordance with the child’s wishes.

Mike’s client agreed to a gradual introduction of overnight staying contact. The Father wanted an order in line with the Cafcass proposals, which the Mother considered to be too much too soon and contrary to the child’s expressed wishes.

Contact did not progress well and there was a contested final hearing. At this hearing the Cafcass officer changed her position regarding the frequency and venue of contact, placing a greater emphasis on the child’s expressed wishes and recommended a more gradual progression of contact and a further review following a further “wishes and feelings” addendum report, and another review hearing.

This was supported by the Mother but rejected by the Father.

After hearing evidence from the Cafcass officer and the parents the Lay Justices decided not to further adjourn the matter but to make a final order and attempted to settle all future contact arrangements by way of a compromise between what the parties were able to agree in general terms in the hope that they would be able to agree the details between themselves. At present the final order is not yet agreed and it may be necessary to return to court for guidance!