The rights of children to have a meaningful relationship with both parents were at the centre of a case in the Court of Appeal Court in which a father was given fresh hope of seeing his daughters.
Proceedings over contact arrangements for the two girls have been going on since 2009. Earlier this year, a County Court judge decided that the father should have no direct contact with them as this would be too distressing for their mother. This followed an outburst by the mother in court, during which she 'broke down' and said that the thought of the girls seeing their father made her feel 'exhausted'.
This decision has now been overturned by the Court of Appeal, which ruled that, so long as the advocate for the girls agrees, they should see their father.
The decision of the County Court went against the view of the children’s independent advocate, who supported contact with the father being introduced gradually.
The father argued that it was a fundamental tenet that, except in exceptional circumstances, children have a right to a meaningful relationship with both parents. The judge had given undue weight to the mother’s distress and failed to focus on the welfare of the children.
Allowing the father’s appeal, the Court of Appeal found that there was no certainty that contact arrangements with the father would not work. If there were no such contact, the children would 'lose their father' and have no opportunity to form a relationship with him until after reaching the age of majority.
The case was remitted to the County Court for a different judge to make arrangements for the gradual re-introduction of the children to their father, at the discretion of their advocate.