Landmark Ruling Grants Father Custody of Children
The Scotsman, Scotland's national newspaper, By Tom Whitehead, PA News (U.K.), July 3, 2004
A key court decision to grant a father custody of his daughters after the mother flouted contact orders for four years was today welcomed by campaigners.
Fathers 4 Justice said that the High Court ruling was a vital victory and called for more judges to take a similar stance when faced with resistant parents.
The comments come after Mrs Justice Bracewell transferred the residence of two young girls to their father because the mother persistently refused him contact, despite court orders.
But Fathers 4 Justice, famed for members throwing flour bombs at Tony Blair in the House of Commons, warned that such moves were still very rare and often came too late.
Founder Matt O'Connor said: "We obviously welcome Mrs. Justice Bracewell's judgement but I am afraid she is one of the more enlightened members of the judiciary.
"The decision is exactly what we have been saying. The transfer of residence is a very simply and easy alternative for judges to adopt in such circumstances.
"But, sadly, it is still very, very rarely done. There should be a mandatory direction issued to all judges in the Family Division that this must be adopted when a parent constantly flouts court orders."
Mrs Justice Bracewell, sitting in the Family Division, awarded custody to the father, known only as Mr. V, in May but the ruling has only just been made available.
She said there was a public perception that courts routinely "rubber-stamped cases" by awarding custody to mothers while marginalising fathers, the Daily Telegraph reported.
She believed there was also a view that courts allowed parents with custody to flout orders for contact, and exclude the other parent from the children's lives, it added.
The "V" couple separated in 2000 and divorced last year. From the time they stopped living together, Mr V had not been allowed any contact with his two daughters, now aged seven and nine.
The judge said there had been "constant litigation" since 2000 involving 17 courts orders and directions and 16 judges, the newspaper said.
Mrs Justice Bracewell held that Mrs V had "undermined contact and had agreed to it without any intention of making it work."
She said she had coached her children to make allegations, and invented or grossly exaggerated minor incidents to justify stopping contact, the Telegraph reported.
The judge accepted that Mr. V had proved himself totally committed to his children and that the only way for them to have a relationship was to transfer residence to him.
Mr. O'Connor said: "It is tragic that this father has had to wait so long for this to be resolved.
"A child's best interests are hardly served by a case that is dragged on over a period of time and at great cost.
"We welcome the decision, but so often such things are too little too late."
Mr. O'Connor founded the pressure group to highlight major issues and concerns in the workings of the Family Division.
It has prompted several high-profile protests by angry fathers who have caused traffic disruption by climbing cranes, bridges and other structures, usually while dressed as superheroes such as Spiderman.
In her ruling, Mrs Justice Bracewell also highlighted the potential effectiveness of the new "early intervention project" to solve such cases earlier.
Ministers announced in February they are to launched the pilot project which is designed to cut the number of bitter child custody battles.
The project brings separated parents together for talks to reach agreement on child contact.
The scheme will also teach couples who have split acrimoniously how to handle post-divorce parenting, and to be more aware of the problems their children may suffer as a result of the split.
The Government hopes it could help reduce the 40% of divorced fathers who lose contact with their children.