Mr Justice Cobb, sitting in the Family Division of the High Court, last week adjourned the contact applications of an allegedly abusive father and the leave to remove applications of the mother. The father was ordered to refer himself for treatment to learn to manage his behaviours and demonstrate that he can effectively co-parent because the requirements for an activity direction could not be met.
Background to the case
The case of Re CB concerned a 16 month old girl, the only child of separated parents both seeking contact whose mother wished to move her overseas.
The parents were together for four years before their relationship broke down in October last year. The breakdown was in Mr Justice Cobb’s words, "difficult and highly conflictual", and the mother asserts the relationship was in its later stages emotionally abusive.
During the relationship breakdown, the police were contacted by one or other parent on nine occasions over the six month period. The father was also arrested and convicted with harassment, a judgement mitigated by the father’s ill health and hyperthyroidism which apparently affected his behaviour at the time. The following month the mother was referred to a MARAC assessed as a high-risk victim of abuse. Throughout this period the father maintained the belief that the mother’s mental ill-health put the child at risk, however Mr Justice Cobb found no evidence to support this.
The father applied for a child arrangements order to provide for his daughter to live or spend time with him and for a prohibited steps order preventing the child’s mother from removing her from the jurisdiction. The mother, a Portuguese national, applied for permission to remove the child from the jurisdiction to live permanently with her in Portugal with indirect contact with the father thereafter.
With effective contact having broken down, weekly contact was set up between the father and child following a court hearing in February. These sessions were supervised by a social worker for report. The report found the father to be a loving and enthusiastic parent and emphasised that the mother showed little regard for the child’s right to a relationship with his father. The report also noted the father’s aggression towards professionals and reluctance to accept guidance, recommending that the child remain with the mother, relocate, and enjoy direct contact with the father supported by a third party.
With regard to the relocation application Mr Justice Cobb made reference to Payne v Payne but reiterated Lord Justice Moore Bick’s interpretation in K v K that though the landmark relocation case identified a number of relevant factors, the ’only authentic principle’ to be derived was that welfare is paramount.
In considering that the mother’s relocation and contact proposals would prevent contact between the child and their father, Mr Justice Cobb drew from Re J-M (A child) and Re C (Direct Contact: Suspension) , citing the principles from the Children Act and the ECHR that the court had a positive duty to promote contact between parent and child and is to be terminated only in exceptional circumstances.
Mr Justice Cobb made factual findings on three aspects of the dispute: the conduct of the father, the mother’s lack of openness to the child’s contact with their father, and her plans and reasons for relocation.
Mr Justice Cobb found that the mother’s proposals for relocation were undeveloped and had no confidence that she would subsequently facilitate contact between the child and the father.
Though he accepted that face-to-face contact was desirable and necessary for the child and her father to establish and maintain a close, parent-child relationship, Mr Justice Cobb noted that if her were to stand "any real prospect of reviving a relationship with his daughter, he needs – with professional help – to prove that he can appropriately manage his behaviours and his emotions."
Mr Justice Cobb did not have sufficient information about what provision was available to the father to specify a particular activity direction, but so as not to delay proceedings, urged the father to self-refer to find the help which he "urgently" needed.
The contact and leave to remove applications were adjourned for five months for the mother to file more comprehensive relocation proposals and for the father to seek help and demonstrate whether he could safely co-parent ahead of a final section 7 report.
Mr Justice Cobb described the adjournment as a "one final, time-limited opportunity" for the father.
In this case, Mr Justice Cobb had to proceed on the understanding that granting a leave to remove application to the mother would effectively end the relationship between father and child.
Earlier this year Mr Justice Cobb called for revisions to Practice Direction 12J that seemingly reneged on the presumption of parental contact in cases involving domestic violence.
However this case shows that where possible, the court will grapple for solutions before abandoning hope of child arrangements that promote parental contact, even where it means adjourning the case.
You can read the judgment in full here.