Children Suffer for Their Parents’ Inability to Communicate

The family courts ‘are not a third parent’ and it is far better for separated parents to agree arrangements for their children’s future between themselves. Those points were strikingly made by the Court of Appeal in a case in which a wealthy former couple had spent a staggering £850,000 on ultimately pointless litigation.

The ex-couple had engaged in a long and sadly familiar dispute over money but their two sons, aged 17 and 15, had become the primary focus of their disagreement. A judge had refused the mother permission to take the boys away with her to live in New York, a move which had been fiercely resisted by their father.

In ruling on the mother’s challenge to that decision, the Court commented on the great unhappiness the boys had endured due to their parents’ failure to settle their differences. In circumstances where the parents argued that there was not enough money to go around, much of the family fortune had been spent on legal costs.

Noting that it is often inappropriate, and even futile, for judges to make orders which conflict with the wishes of children approaching adulthood, the Court opened the way for the mother to take the older boy to New York. However, the younger child would have to remain with his father in England, at least until he was 16, when he would be old enough to decide for himself where he wanted to live.

Observing that family judges are there to resolve disagreements which cannot be resolved in any other way, the Court urged the former couple to seek mediation. The dispute had taken a heavy toll on their sons who, whilst emerging from the case with great credit, had paid a high price for their parents’ inability to communicate.

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