Judge urges couple to try to end conflict for sake of children

Issues concerning the children's custody had been before different courts on several occasions, High Court judge said
Judge urges couple to try to end conflict for sake of children

It was claimed the father had engaged in, and sought to involve his children in a campaign to be the children's primary carer, which had caused them to suffer emotional upset.

A High Court judge has urged an estranged couple to try and end the conflict between them for the good of their three young children.

The comments were made by Ms Justice Bronagh O'Hanlon, in a judgement delivered on Tuesday, arising out of on-going custody and access dispute between the former couple, who separated several years ago.

The judge said the issues concerning the children's custody had been before different courts on several occasions.

This was "a profoundly sad case", where there was an extremely difficult background and history. The judge added she recognised "the grave upset" caused to all members of the family.

'Far too much litigation'

She said there had been "far too much litigation in this case and not enough common sense applied by the parties themselves to the situation".

If the parents could "just agree that the conflict could end for the benefit of their three children" and get on with a process outlined by the court, that "would be of great assistance", the judge said.

The judge made her comments in a judgement dismissing an appeal brought by the father against a decision made by the Circuit Family Court earlier this year.

The parties cannot be named for legal reasons. Both parents had been given joint custody, with their mother given primary control following the end of their relationship.

However, access arrangements broke down after for reasons including intrapersonal difficulties between the parents, and following various allegations against the father, who has a suspected mental health condition and is undergoing therapy.

It was claimed the father had engaged in, and sought to involve his children in a campaign to be the children's primary carer, which had caused them to suffer emotional upset.

This resulted in recommendations being made that the father be subject to supervised access. Eventually, all access was withdrawn due to the father's alleged behaviour.

Circuit Court judgement

Earlier this year, the Circuit Court had dismissed an application by the father, where he sought various orders against the mother, on the grounds his application was premature.

The orders included on granting him primary care and control of the couple's children, and that their mother undergo psychiatric evaluation.

The court heard the father brought the appeal because he has had no access for a year, and that he did not want it to be supervised.

The mother wanted the access order dismissed due to the father's behaviour, with had resulted in the gardaí being called and the father being arrested.

The mother claimed he had engaged in emotional abuse, had engaged in aggressive behaviour and at times could not control himself.

Any access would have to be supervised, the mother said.

Upheld lower court's decision

However, Ms Justice O'Hanlon upheld the lower court's decision on grounds including that there was absolutely no basis for asking the mother to undergo such an assessment.

It was accepted the children's mother was doing her best in difficult circumstances, she said.

The judge said that what was a high-conflict situation had a telling effect on both parents and children, and was damaging the possibility of good access.

She noted the complaints made about the father, adding the access had been supervised for a good reason.

The judge said she accepted the father must have meaningful access with the children and put in place a regime to try and help bring about an end to the situation.

The children, if they want, were to each have 10-minute video calls with the father one day a week, the judge said.

The father was not to mention topics such as custody, access or conflict. He was just to listen to them and converse about their daily activities and how they are doing in school.

This regime is to remain in place for a few months to see if progress in this and other areas can be made so a more workable scheme can be put in place, the judge said.

The children's mother would be in the room during this access, but should not intervene unless absolutely necessary, the judge added.

The judge said the children's father must obey what professionals have suggested in terms of what can and cannot be said to the children during access.

The judge also granted the parties permission to mention matters to the court should the need arise.

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