Mr Justice Wall took the unusual move of making public his judgment in the case (Re ‘O’, 12 December 2003) of a father who withdrew his application for contact with his 12-year-old son. He did so (while preserving the anonymity of the parties) because the case illustrated a “number of more general points relating to contact applications” which the general public were unaware of.
“Profound emotions are often aroused in contact proceedings,” said Judge Wall, whose promotion to the Court of Appeal was announced this week. “The children concerned become the battleground on which are fought out the wrongs which the parents perceive each did to the other during the period they lived together.”
In this case, the father accused the mother of ‘O’ of child abuse, perverting the course of justice, defamation of character and perjury. The ruling will mean that the father will have no face-to-face meetings with his son for the foreseeable future, but will be able to write letters and send presents and cards on birthdays and at Easter and Christmas. The judge said that the father had explained his reasons for withdrawing his application for contact in a statement headed ‘Enough is Enough’.
The courts were not “anti-father and pro-mother, or vice-versa”, said the judge. “Unless there are cogent reasons against it, children of separated parents are entitled to know, and have the love and society, of both their parents,” he continued. “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.”
The father had contended that it was a case where the mother had deliberately alienated his son from him. “It is not”, the judge ruled. “The principal reason that ‘O’ is hostile to contact with his father is because of his father’s behaviour, and not because his mother has influenced ‘O’ against his father. Unfortunately, the father is quite unable to understand this.” He was critical of the father’s “misplaced” reliance on the “so called ‘parental alienation syndrome'”.
Judge Wall went on to acknowledge that the court process was “stressful for both parents and children, expensive, slow and adversarial”, and tended to “entrench parental attitudes rather than encouraging them to change”. “Parents must, however, take responsibility for the state of affairs they have created,” he said. “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 abut. All the evidence is that he has proved incapable of doing so.”