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Parental Conflict and the court : Re K v D 2015

Parental Conflict between separated parents and the impact this can have upon children is well documented within many arenas. The research paper Post separation parenting Arrangements undertaken by Jennifer McIntosh records “rigid arrangements often fuelled by acrimony and poor co operation and often set out in court orders were associated with higher depressive and anxiety symptoms in children as reported by their parents and this form of living children often sought to change”

Children do not want their parents to be at war. Often parents cannot see the impact their actions are having on their children genuinely believing they are doing what they believe to be in their children’s best interests. It is these cases that often end of in court. But what jurisdiction does the court have to manage such adult conflict? The recent case of K v D (Parental Conflict) [2015] EWFC 49 addressed this very point.

Here the court said
“THE ANTE IS BEING UPPED EVERY 5 MINUTES, IT NEEDS TO STOP.” “IN SOME WAYS, I FEEL LIKE A PARENT, I FEEL LIKE BANGING THEIR HEADS TOGETHER. THEY’LL LOSE THE LOVE OF THEIR CHILDREN IF THEY CARRY ON LIKE THIS” “I DON’T THINK THESE PARENTS REALISE HOW MUCH THEY ARE DAMAGING THEIR CHILDREN AT THIS TIME.”

The Children Act 1989 as amended provides the court with the power to make activity conditions under section 11C requiring an individual to take part in an activity that would help to establish, maintain or improve the involvement in a child’s life of themselves or another party. This gives the power to require attendance at a SPIP or an anger management course. The court can make a family assistance order. It can prevent international travel. It can give directions about passports. It can prevent the children from having contact with particular individuals.

Often as in this case The father seeks a ‘live with’ order for two reasons. He wants to send the message that he is an equal parent and / or he wants shared care. Neither reason was found to be persuasive in this case on this set of circumstances. “The children live with their mother and the order should reflect this reality, which will not change even if the father was already living in England. This is really an issue about contact, which the court will ensure takes place. By adding a retaliatory claim for shared care, the father only adds to the anxiety experienced by the children and their mother.”

A parent with whom the children live may seek supervised contact as a means of protecting the children from the impact of emotional harm she / he believes the children are being exposed to. In this case The mother’s application for contact to be supervised was dismissed.

Fall outs between adults and extended member of families are all too often an issue in such cases whereby one party seeks an order from the court preventing the children from coming into contact with a third party, here the court said “[36] I dismiss the father’s applications for orders prohibiting the mother from bringing the children into contact with her brother-in-law or leaving them with her father. The mother is to be trusted to decide these matters.

The judge directed both parties attend a Separated parenting a information Programme ” at the earliest opportunity so that, in Ms Ingledew’s words, they can learn about the impact on the children of hearing negativity about the other parent and by this means provide relief to J and E. [38] I shall not direct the father to attend an anger management programme. He may be wise to do so of his own free will, or to attend equivalent counselling, at least as a sign that he wants things to change, but any value would be partly lost if he was not attending voluntarily.”

Finally in the light if the level of acrimony the court order “a family assistance order requiring CAFCASS (if possible Ms Ingledew, and if not her Ms Skoglund, if she is available) to advise and assist the parents and to befriend the children for a period of 12 months. I direct that under section 11G a report is made to the court if either parent fails to attend the SPIP promptly. If the situation progresses well, an application can be made to me in writing for the FAO to be discharged early: section 16(6). Under the same subsection, I direct that the CAFCASS officer should refer the matter back to the court no later than 10 months from now if it is her view that the prohibited steps order preventing the children’s removal from the jurisdiction should be discharged within the next 12 months or extended beyond then.”

The court also managed other aspects of conflict between the parties so far as they could including the mothers personal relationship with her solicitor. However hopefully this case shows the avenues and limitations available to the court to manage such conflict in order to protect the interests of the child.

A full copy of the judgement can be found here