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Parents should ‘use carrot and stick’ to effect contact

Child's refusal cannot be a justification for parental failure, says President

Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, hearing an appeal in a case in which the father has not had direct contact with his two daughters, now 16 and 14, since 2008, has reminded parents of their obligations to encourage contact.

In Re H-B (Contact) [2015] EWCA Civ 389, the court heard that contact had stopped in 2008 following an incident in which the father's new wife had been angry with the older girl and grabbed her, causing a superficial injury. Since then there has been only indirect contact between father and children.

The father appealed against the refusal of his application for direct contact.

Black LJ, giving the lead judgment, noted that at various stages both parents had been criticised for their intransigence. It was said that they had "behaved in ways that are destructive to the prospects of contact". Some of the father's behaviour had been "startlingly unwise" and there had been a lack of effective maternal support for direct contact and a failure on the part of the mother properly to support the therapy which had been recommended. The guardian and judge had described their conduct as 'inexcusable'.

The President said:

"There are many things which they ought to do that children may not want to do or even refuse to do: going to the dentist, going to visit some 'boring' elderly relative, going to school, doing homework or sitting an examination, the list is endless. The parent's job, exercising all their parental skills, techniques and stratagems – which may include use of both the carrot and the stick and, in the case of the older child, reason and argument –, is to get the child to do what it does not want to do. That the child's refusal cannot as such be a justification for parental failure is clear: after all, children whose education or health is prejudiced by parental shortcomings may be taken away from their parents and put into public care."

Dismissing the appeal, he concluded:

"It is simply too dreadful to imagine a future where both parents are estranged from their daughters, where they are cut off from their grandchildren, and where they are left with nothing but regrets and remorse. It is, as I said to them in court, the kind of outcome which haunts me in cases like this. It is a future which does not bear thinking about. It is not yet too late; perhaps this appeal can be the catalyst for change."

The judgment is here.

24/4/15