Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Re N: How parents should NOT conduct themselves

I've come across some acrimonious children disputes in my time, but few can compare with N (A Child), Re [2009] EWHC 1807 (Fam). The case is an object lesson in how parents should not conduct themselves.

The child was born in 2001. The parents were not married and separated in late 2002. The proceedings began in October 2003 (when the mother made a Schedule 1 Children Act application and the father applied for residence and interim contact) "and have continued ever since with unabated vigour". Along the way there have been innumerable hearings, including one in July 2008 before the President of the Family Division, who described the attitude of the parents as "acrimonious, confrontational and emotionally fraught in relation to N's residence and parental contact". At that time the guardian stated:
"Examination of the papers reveals a wholly deplorable situation. N is a young boy who has two parents who love him but who have demonstrated an unwillingness or inability to put his needs first and who as a result of their relentless pursuit of their own agendas have caused him emotional harm and arguably that emotional harm is significant. This situation cannot be permitted to continue. The parents need to stop trying to score points against each other and examine instead their own actions to ensure that N and his needs are put first."
But continue it has, most recently before Mr Justice Munby. I won't go into the details, but essentially the father was attempting to re-open the matter of arrangements for N after a consent order had been made. The father's actions received short shrift from Mr Justice Munby: "in his more sweeping ambitions – and this in reality is what he is determined to engineer, whatever and however – he seeks completely to subvert and destroy the consent order. For what he seeks is nothing less than to re-open the whole matter, in the hope that he will obtain the sole residence order which in over five years of litigation has thus far eluded him".

And what of the child? He has pleaded with his school, the social worker and the guardian for the fighting (he calls it "the trouble") to stop, but thus far to no avail. Pointing out the responsibility that the parents have to their son, Mr Justice Munby warned: "They merely abdicate that responsibility if they come to court ... and what do they imagine their son thinks of them, what do they imagine their son will think of them in future, as a teenager and later as an adult?" He went on: "unless the parents do now buckle down, unless the court declines – resolutely and with immediate effect – to arbitrate where the parents refuse to agree, even though they can and should be able to agree, the process will continue until N simply 'votes with his feet', perhaps, and worst of all, until he abandons them both, pronouncing a 'plague on both your houses.'".

Will the parents now listen? I will not hold my breath.

In the course of the proceedings the father had raised issues regarding Mr Justice Munby's case management. Mr Justice Munby's response is noteworthy: "the antics of litigants who, like the father here, seek to defy, without appealing, the orders which the judge to whom a case is reserved has thought appropriate to make as part of his responsibilities to ensure the proper management of the case, merely redound to the disadvantage of other litigants – and other children – who, patiently awaiting their turn in an already over-long queue, comply with the court's directions."


  1. Gosh - I wonder what he had to say to/about the representative/advisers to the parents?!

  2. The blame was laid firmly at the feet of the parents, although whether this would have been any different if they had been represented by lawyers, I couldn't say.

  3. Im currently going through a family case and my hisband has applied for residency. The judge said to me that i m to stop point scoring..... My husband repeatdily raped me, and fired a a gun at me, everything in his statement is a lie and he is eing listened to. He threatned the last caffcass officer and .... its gone to a court guardian..... the court guardian siad becuase of my attitude !, ie angry at whats going on he will rule in favour of my e !!!!! I think the law shoul be changed. Whats said in the court room should be subject to prugery rules .. then i wouldnt be angry and tahe case looked at with truth and be fairer to both parties and put the children first


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