Divorce is often fraught with hostility and emotion and this is only heightened when attempting to agree to any child arrangements. Intractable contact cases can be nothing short of impossible in terms of searching for the prefect outcome – one that means that the best interests of the child are met, while both parents can still see the child. These cases arise where it would be emotionally harmful for a child not to have contact with one parent, but as the child has also become alienated from that parent, for whatever reason, to force contact would also be harmful. Demonstrating the difficulties which can emerge in such scenarios is the 2017 case of Q v R.
The facts in Q v R – intractable contact
The sad case of Q v R concerned issues of parental alienation and intractable contact. The mother, father and their two children (who were aged 8 and 12 by the time of the final hearing in June 2017) were all part of ongoing proceedings regarding the father’s contact with the children for almost five years. At this point, both children said that they had no desire to have contact with their father nor did they wish to be asked any more about seeing him.
- The parents, Q and R, began living with one another around 2000/2001 with their first son, S, being born a in the November of 2004.
- Three years later (2007) there was a violent incident where the father assaulted the mother. She suffered serious facial injuries, losing teeth and had to have plastic surgery. The father was convicted of ABH and was given a suspended jail sentence.
- Following a reconciliation between the parents, child T was born in the August of 2008. However, in 2011 the parents separated again.
- The children remained in regular contact with their father until 2012 following a referral made by T’s nursery to the local authorities that ‘mum appears blinkered and appears focused on dad and not letting him see the children’.
- After this, the father made an application to the court for contact on the 26th of October 2012, and proceedings commenced in the December. At this time the court ordered staying contact between the children and their father.
- Throughout the above the mother opposed contact of any kind between the children and their father.
- The same events seemed to continue in a cycle from this point on. Contact would be ordered by the court, the mother would come up with a variety of reasons as to why the contact could not go ahead, the parents would end up back in court and again, contact would be awarded. There were difficulties with some of the contact the father did have with the children, including allegations of smacking, but overall, the contact was found to be generally positive.
- The result of this was a complete lack of contact between father and children for a period of two years and an expression by both children that they no longer wished to see their father under any circumstances.
It was found by a supervising social worker that the contact spent between the father and his children was positive in nature and he ‘met the children’s needs positively and effectively‘. It was recommended by the same source that the most beneficial outcome for all involved would be a shared care arrangement, to include spending alternate weeks between the mother and father.
It was also recognised that the mother had frequently sabotaged contact arrangements, preventing the children from meeting with their father, even though it was recognised that such meetings would benefit the children immensely.
The expert witnesses found that the children would continue to endure harm should they have no contact whatsoever with their father.
As part of the judgment given in 2014, it was found that the mother was ‘prone to exaggeration’ and had given false information to the practitioner. Despite this it was noted that ‘[she] is not naturally untruthful and has had real and justified concerns about the physical and emotional welfare of these two children’.
Indirect contact was ordered at the contact hearing in May 2014 and the court also stated that it expected direct contact between the father and children to commence following six months.
This did not occur and the father applied to the court again to try and establish direct contact in the January of 2015.
Following a final hearing in March 2016 a contact plan was put together and agreed to by both parties. This was to begin with daytime meetings and to move on to overnight stays within a six week period.
The plan was maintained for a short period of time but soon fell apart (around April 2016). As a result the case ended up back in court a year later.
The outcome of the final hearing in June 2017 was again an order for indirect contact. Although the judge found that the children’s view of their father was false, based on “…a false belief system fostered and encouraged by their mother.” [para 135], it would harm the children to force them to have contact with him, because those views were so deeply entrenched.
How can Legal Professionals make a difference in intractable contact cases?
Cases such as the above are legally complex and are often very difficult to resolve on any level. There are however a number of factors to be taken into consideration which could ease this burden for everyone involved.
- Being aware of intractable contact along with parental alienation is key for both the courts and those advising on the case in hand. Consciousness of the issues allows for quick recognition and the issues can therefore be addressed much earlier.
- Independent expert involvement from social workers and/or CAFCASS officers is invaluable. These bodies are already aware of and working on the ground with many families in these, often hostile, situations. Their input can be valuable in a variety of ways including, advising and reporting for the courts, working with families entering into contact arrangements and being physically present when contact is going ahead.
- Correctly categorising the issues at hand is vital in obtaining the best attention for the case as possible. Circuit judges are available for cases that clearly contain/have a high possibility for the development of intractable resistance to contact. This is clearly beneficial as said circuit judges will have more experience of dealing with similar issues.
Whether you are a parent entering into child contact arrangements or a practitioner in need of more advice regarding an intractable contact case, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Here at Thomas Mansfield we specialise in Family Law matters and will be more than happy to help advise and guide you through all the available pathways.