Child Contact Disputes Can Be Defused by Mediation - But Take Advice Soon

If parents engaged in child contact disputes take up entrenched positions, it is very nearly always the child that suffers most. Such disputes can often be defused by taking legal advice at an early stage in order to promote dialogue and an amicable resolution. In one case where this did not happen, a father ended up being banned from having any direct contact with his nine-year-old daughter.

Since the parents' separation, the girl had lived exclusively with her mother, who had married another man. During five years of relentless litigation, the father had been criticised for his bizarre and controlling behaviour. The mother and her husband, however, were said to be determined to extinguish his parental responsibility for the girl and to remove him from any role in her life. They had allegedly encouraged her to call the husband 'daddy' and her father by his first name. They had also made, and later withdrawn, a misguided application to adopt the child.

In ordering that the father should have no face-to-face contact with the girl, a family judge noted her hostility towards him and that contact is the right of the child, not the parent. After forming an unfavourable view of the father, the judge restricted him to weekly Skype or telephone contact with the girl and to sending her monthly letters and occasional gifts. The judge, however, expressed the hope that, if the father manages to focus on his daughter, rather than his perception of himself as a victim, direct contact might be re-established in the future.

In dismissing the father's appeal against the judge's ruling, the High Court noted that the girl had been caught in the middle of the conflict between her parents. The huge ill will between them was deeply damaging to the child and had achieved nothing. The Court, however, warned the mother and her husband that they owe it to the father to present him to the girl in a positive light and that a failure to do so would be likely to come back and bite them in the future. He remained the girl's father and it was incumbent upon them to encourage and cooperate with indirect contact.