In a ruling which emphasises the importance of fathers in the lives of young children, the Court of Appeal has upheld a man’s right to have contact with his eight-year-old son. Despite concerns expressed by the boy’s mother that the father had been the perpetrator of domestic violence in the past, the Court ruled that the boy’s best interests lay in seeing his father regularly.
Subsequent to the extremely bitter break-up of the parents’ relationship, the mother had accused the father of subjecting her to violence within the home. After a fact-finding hearing, a family judge rejected the mother’s allegations whilst accepting that the relationship had been a volatile one and that the father could appear to be aggressive and controlling on occasion.
The mother later claimed that her son had told her that his father had been violent towards him during contact visits. Whilst those allegations had not been tested by evidence, a social worker had noted that the boy did not appear to be scared of his father and showed apparent excitement and delight on seeing him. A joint residence order had been recommended by a CAFCASS officer who expressed the view that the boy would feel deprived and neglected by his father if their relationship were not allowed to flourish. Regular contact with his father was also viewed as vitally important in order to allow the boy to experience both sides of his mixed heritage.
Without making any findings on the mother’s allegations, a family judge had extended the frequency of the father’s contact rights with his son. The mother challenged the decision, arguing that the boy would be placed at risk of physical harm and particularly objecting to the father having contact with the boy at his home. It was argued that the judge’s order had pre-empted final determination on full evidence of where the boy’s best interests lie.
Dismissing the mother’s appeal, the Court of Appeal ruled that the family judge had been entitled to make an order in respect of contact on an interim basis without making findings of fact in relation to the mother’s disputed allegations. The judge’s focus had correctly been on the welfare of the child and he had properly balanced any physical risk to the child against the damage that reduced contact might have on his long-term relationship with his father.