Court allows indirect contact between 8-year-old girl and mother
The Family Court has allowed indirect contact to continue between a mother and her eight-year-old daughter in a case where there were “no right answers, only least wrong ones”.
The girl’s parents had separated in 2013. She remained with her mother and older sister, who is now 18.
The separation was acrimonious. In 2015, allegations of sexual abuse had been made by the elder sister against the father but were not proved.
The mother and sister had been unable to accept those findings. Following several court hearings, the eight-year-old moved to live with the father but the dispute between the parents continued.
An order was made in 2018 for indirect contact between the mother and her daughter.
Further litigation followed and a re-hearing was ordered. The mother sought more direct contact; the father and his partner, the stepmother who had become the girl’s primary carer, opposed any variation of the indirect contact order. They both stated that they would be unable to continue to care for the daughter if she had direct contact with the mother and sister.
The court held that the indirect contact order should remain.
It held that, all things being equal, contact with the mother would bring long-term benefits to the daughter. Overriding that, however, was the inability of the father and the stepmother, because of his mental health, to countenance the idea of direct contact.
The risks of further deterioration of the father's mental health, his possible suicide, or the stepmother leaving the marriage or relinquishing care of the girl, was too great.
In the balancing exercise, the risk of destabilising the girl’s placement with the father and stepmother outweighed the harm to her which would inevitably be caused by refusing direct contact. It would be more catastrophic to her to lose the father and stepmother, and they were unable to meet her need for direct contact with the mother. There were no right answers, only the least wrong ones.
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Case Citations:  EWFC 16(1) JD (2) LD v (1) VB (2) B (3) A (BY HER CHILDREN'S GUARDIAN) (2020) Fam Ct (Judge Dancey)
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