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(Family Division, His Honour Judge Bellamy, sitting as a judge of the High Court, 25 September 2013)
The parents of the, now 13-year-old, child separated before her birth and for the first 6 years of her life there was constant litigation between the parents. When contact proceedings became intractable the child was made a party and a Cafcass officer was appointed as guardian.
Initially the father enjoyed frequent contact including overnight stays until a gradual reduction led to an order for contact three times per year. The order included detailed provisions such as restricting the father from going within 4 miles of the mother's home, contacting the child's school and GP. Finally a s 91(14) order was put in place for a period of 6 years.
Prior to the reduction in contact a consultant clinical psychologist reported that the father was extremely focused on the child, almost to the point of obsession and that he experienced swings in behaviour from aggression to seeking sympathy. The psychologist advised that the father should honestly address his issues in psychotherapy. In an addendum report he advised that contact should take place twice or three times each year.
The father now sought to persuade the court that the effect of the order was for a review of contact to take place at the expiration of the s 91(14) order. The day after its expiration the father wrote to the mother seeking an extension of current contact arrangements. The mother's position remained unchanged and she accused the father of manipulating and harassing the child. The mother had shielded the child from the proceedings and she remained unaware of why contact with her father was limited.
The National Youth Advocacy case worker reported that the child enjoyed contact with her father and that she would like to have more contact on a more flexible basis but there was no suggestion that she wished for contact at the level sought by the father. He also recorded that the father lacked insight into why the restricted contact order was made and in his view the risk of manipulation and controlling was still there.
In high conflict cases involving older children, before making an order the court should consider, in light of what was known about the parents, the child and the family dynamics, whether there was a realistic possibility that the order contemplated was practical and workable and whether, in the event of non-compliance, there was a realistic possibility of it being successfully enforced.
Having consideration to the child's wishes and feelings, in light of her age and understanding, which she had consistently expressed, direct contact would be increased to eight times per year. There was no doubt that a further s 91(14) order would be appropriate and it would be proportionate for it to remain in force until her 16th birthday.
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