In VB v JD [2019] EWHC 612 (Fam), Cohen J granted the mother’s appeal against an order that stopped all direct contact between her and her youngest child. The first instance judge should have explored all alternatives before making such a harsh and severe order that terminated the child’s relationship with her mother.

The case was about a child aged 7. In 2015, the mother and a half-sister aged 17, alleged that the child’s father sexually abused the step-sister. DJ Willis dismissed the allegations against Father, observing that:

  1. He was “not able to say that nothing untoward happened”.
  2. Mother appeared determined to ensure that the child had no contact with Father.

The 7 year-old child was ordered to live with the father and her stepmother with supervised contact with the mother and half-sister based on the expert report from a consultant psychologist. The mother applied to vary the contact arrangement order. In March 2017, the parties agreed a consent order increasing the child’s contact with her mother and half-sister over the period of a year.

In May 2017, the father applied for a prohibited steps orders against the mother and half-sister as well as a variation of the contact arrangements. The father relied on 19 separate events that occurred between March 2017 and June 2017. Some were actions by the mother and half-sister and others, to show that the new contact arrangements had become unworkable.

Included were phone calls from the half-sister to Children’s Services and to the police expressing concerns for the child, who she said was living with the father – who had physically and sexually abused the child.

Contact continued (without incident) pending the final hearing in November 2017, when the judge ordered no direct contact between the child and mother and half-sister and indirect contact once a month. Cohen J allowed the mother’s appeal against this order because:

  1. Contact should be terminated only in exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, where there is no alternative, and only if continuing contact would be detrimental to the child’s welfare.
  2. There had been no consideration of a limited level of supervised contact.
  3. No separate consideration had been given to the position of mother and half-sister.
  4. The half-sister had not communicated her allegations to the child, but there was a continuing risk that the half-sister would feel that she must tell the child to protect her.
  5. The events relied on by the father all occurred outside of contact visits and stopping contact would not prevent them from reoccurring.

Terminating a child’s relationship with a parent or sibling is a harsh and severe step that should not be taken without all alternatives being explored. Instructing a child psychiatrist or psychologist may help to achieve this but it is important to speak to a solicitor who specialises and has had recent experience with such circumstances. If you need help and advice on where to go next, call us on 01273 726951 or use the contact page.

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