Child custody decisions (called residence orders in legal terminology) are one of the most difficult of all areas in family law. Often, there is a great deal of acrimony between the couple who have split up. This makes the decisions regarding which parent the children will live with and what the terms of access will be for the other parent both difficult to make and difficult to make work.
The courts frequently become involved subsequent to such decisions, when allegations are made that a parent is not complying with the order of the court regarding access to the children by the other parent. In such circumstances, the approach taken by the court against the offending parent can be robust, as a recent case illustrates.
When the couple concerned separated, their son continued to live with his mother but maintained contact with his father. The mother, however, repeatedly attempted to interfere both with the child’s contact sessions with his father and with conversations between them, on one occasion becoming violent.
The mother’s behaviour resulted in several court hearings and she was warned that her behaviour could lead to the son being placed in the care of his father. Eventually, the father applied for a residence order, which was granted after evidence was heard from a psychologist and a social worker, who supported the father’s application. It was alleged that the mother suffered from a serious personality disorder and that despite the child’s desire to remain with her, continued residence with his mother could have an adverse effect on him.
The mother appealed, arguing that the judge had given insufficient weight to the difficulties such a change might create for the child and to the fact that he wished to remain with her.
The Court of Appeal found that the judge was entitled to reach the decision he did, based on the evidence presented, and that it could not be claimed that he had given insufficient weight to specific factors – the weight to be given to the evidence was a matter for the judge to decide.