Tuesday, September 30, 2014

T v S: The court cannot micro-manage the relationship between the parents and their handling of the child

A quick look at T v S [2013] EWHC 2521 (Fam), which was decided by the President on the 25th of July last year, but has just appeared on Bailii. It doesn't make very pretty reading, especially for the parents concerned.

The case involved a six year old boy and the 'incessant litigation' relating to him between his mother and his father over the previous four and a half years. The President picked up the story in December 2012, when Mr Justice Hedley decided that, contrary to the father's wishes, there should not be a reversal of the existing arrangement that the boy spend the majority of his time with his mother.

The father gave Mr Justice Hedley's order just five months, before effectively asking the court to re-open the matter. His application went before the President, who said that the father sought:
"...to persuade me, or some other judge, to do that which Mr. Justice Hedley was not prepared to do as recently as 11 December 2012. He supports his application with a litany of complaints about the mother's alleged conduct, many of which are reminiscent in their substance, if in their detail they differ, from complaints which have been ventilated in the past. Fundamentally he attacks the division of time as between the parents and asserts that the proper division of time should be equal as between the mother and the father, referring in this context to proposals which are currently before Parliament."
and that:
"...the father seeks not merely a fundamental change to the arrangements set out by Mr. Justice Hedley but, moreover, implicitly on the basis that before deciding the way forward the court should investigate the allegations which he currently makes against the mother, which history would strongly suggest will be met, if not in equal measure, at least in measure, by counter-allegations from her."
Unsurprisingly, the President was not prepared to play ball. Instead, he gave a stark warning to the parents:
"There is an appalling spectre lying ahead for these parents and, more particularly, their son. There seems to be a complete inability to do anything by agreement. There has been a distressing volume of correspondence between the parties and their solicitors. It is a feature which I am readily able to accept that virtually nothing is achieved by agreement. It does not follow from this that the solution is for the court to embark upon the kind of further investigation that the father is suggesting. Unless the parents both recognise their responsibilities as parents, take account of the wise words of Mr. Justice Hedley, and adapt their behaviour accordingly, the consequences for the child caught in the middle of what a CAFCASS officer described as a "toxic relationship" hardly bear thinking about."
The court, he said, simply could not micro-manage the relationship between the parents and their handling of the child. The parents could not even agree the detail of the whereabouts on Clapham Junction railway station that the handover of the child should take place. Clearly exasperated, Mr Justice Hedley had said:
"This is their child, nobody else's, and if they want to inflict that on the child, they answer for it in due course. I suppose, if common sense were to have any part to play in this, one might draw attention to the fact that there is a Brighton-bound platform at Clapham Junction (which is 13, I think) which may even have a small café on it, and that might make an altogether admirable place at which to effect the handover, but if the parties have other ideas and want to hand over on some empty platform or disused siding, that is a matter for them."
Back to the President:
"The court simply cannot micro-manage this very difficult relationship. If it sought to do so it would simply disempower the parents and add to the stresses on the child. Despite the force and intensity of the father's complaints, he has said nothing in my judgment which, whether looked at individually or collectively, justifies the drastic step, so shortly after Mr. Justice Hedley refused, entirely appropriately as it seems to me, to vary the arrangements, to throw all that back into the melting pot and to embark upon the kind of investigation preparatory to the kind of fundamental change in the arrangements which it is the father's ambition to achieve."
In the circumstances, he declined to give the father permission to pursue his application.

Indicative of the inability of the parents to agree anything, the judgment then went on to consider a dispute between them regarding dental treatment for the child. Again, the President refused to get involved.

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