When the family court is asked to resolve a dispute between parents over arrangements for their children it will consider a list of factors, as set out by parliament.
One of those factors is the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the children concerned, considered in the light of their age and understanding.
And this means that the older and more mature the children, the greater the weight the court will give to their wishes. In fact, there will come a point when the court is likely to consider the children’s wishes to be decisive, so that the court will follow whatever those wishes are (provided, of course, that they are reasonable).
Aware of this, parents will sometimes sadly try to manipulate their children against the other parent, in an attempt to influence the decision of the court.
And sometimes the manipulation will come from both parents, as was seen in a recent case that took place in the family court at Coventry.
Child arrangements application
The case concerned a father’s application for a child arrangements order in relation to his two children, aged 13 and 7. The application, made in April 2020, was for the children to live with him, or spend some time with him.
He had not spent time with the children since July 2019, when he and the mother separated, save for an occasion in October 2019 and two occasions in February 2020.
In the course of the proceedings the father made a number of allegations, which largely centred around the mother engaging the children in adult conversation, and trying to influence their feelings towards their father.
The mother in turn made a number of allegations against the father, which included abusive and controlling behaviour towards her, not looking after the children properly, kicking the children and forcing them to make videos stating that they did not want to live with their mother.
Obviously, the court had to decide the truth of the allegations made by each parent against the other.
To do this the court fixed a ‘fact-finding’ hearing, at which the judge would consider each of the allegations in turn, and decide which, if any, of them were true.
In the event the judge was not convinced by the evidence of either parent.
The judge did not accept all of the father’s allegations, and found that the mother presented as an unreliable witness.
The judge concluded: “In my judgment, this is a complex case where both parents have sought to manipulate their children against the other parent and have not considered their children as their priority over gaining an advantage against the other parent.
Father’s failures have been compounded by mother’s narrative. Both parents are firmly at fault for the position the children find themselves in. The children are being emotionally abused by their parents and that must stop.”
The report of the case does not state what happened after this fact-finding hearing, but if the parents were not then able to resolve matters between themselves by agreement the case would proceed to a final hearing, when the court would decide whether the children should live with the father, and if not what time they should spend with him.
Obviously, the attempts by each parent to manipulate the children against the other came to nothing, and would not therefore influence the final decision of the court, although the court would certainly be concerned about the effect of the parental manipulation upon the children.
The moral of the case is clear: a parent should not seek to manipulate their children against the other parent to seek an advantage in child arrangements proceedings, even if the other parent is ‘guilty’ of similar behaviour.
If they do so then the court will ascertain the truth, and take a very dim view of that behaviour, which it may consider to amount to emotional abuse of the children.