Lucinda Connell, specialist leading lawyer in family and children matters, of Major Family Law based in Ponteland, Newcastle and Hexham’s top divorce and children specialist solicitors, reports the very recent appeal case of Re H-B (Contact) [2015] EWCA Civ 389 makes it clear that parents are to be reminded of their obligations to encourage contact and states that a child’s refusal cannot be a justification for parental failure.

In Re H-B the father had not had any direct contact with his two daughters, now aged 14 and 16 years, since 2008. The Court heard that direct contact had stopped 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 had 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 both behaved in ways 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 children’s guardian and judge had described their conduct as ‘inexcusable’.

In dismissing the appeal, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, 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.

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.”

Words worth remembering by all parents and family lawyers alike.