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Court Decision on Father’s Contact With Child

In AH v. CH Scotland’s senior family judge ordered that direct contact by a father with his son should be re-established over a period of three months and he urged both parents to put the past conflict behind them in the greater interest of the child’s welfare.

Lord Brailsford took into account statements by the child in the past that he did not want to see his father. However he also took into account the expert evidence of child psychiatrist, Professor Tommy MacKay, who told the court he considered the boy’s views about contact with his father to be genuine, “but that they are not independently formed views”. The boy’s mother holds “… an unflinching view that [the father’s] intentions are not arising from a genuine interest in contact [with his son] but rather from an aspiration to abduct him.”

He stated: “The child had clear knowledge of his mother’s negative views towards his father.”

As a result the child had formed negative views towards contact based upon what was said and done by his mother, whether intentionally or not. The Professor believed that the child would be extremely concerned that any acceptance of his father by him would cause upset to his mother and this was something he would be anxious to avoid doing.

Professor MacKay, who produced seven reports during the seven years this case has been in court, cited evidence that children who do not have contact with both parents have, as a group, a greater propensity to experience difficulties academically, psychologically, emotionally and in future relationships in later life.

The court also heard evidence from a social worker who had supervised a contact centre session that the father is a “… caring and loving father who got on well with his son and who had his son’s best interests at heart.”

Lord Brailsford states in his judgment that these are very significant considerations which the court cannot ignore, going on to note that: “I have to weigh the potential for adverse effects in later life against a child’s currently expressed opinion against contact, always bearing in mind that that expression of view has been engendered by his mother’s attitude and that when he actually experiences contact he enjoys meeting his father.”

In connection with the mother’s fears, Lord Brailsford concludes: “… [the mother’s] expression of fear of abduction of her son is genuinely held. I do however go further and express the view that even if that belief is genuinely held there is no objective or rational basis for it at the present time.” He then set out the various protective measures such as passport surrender and Port Alert Orders which could prevent any such abduction.

The father in this case is from Tunisia, but has lived in Scotland for more than ten years and is settled here with a steady job. The mother, who is Scottish, met him in Edinburgh in 2004 and they married in Tunisia in 2006, their son being born in 2007. They separated in 2008 and divorced in 2013. Contact was regulated by court orders from 2009, but the father hasn’t seen his son since an unsuccessful contact centre session in 2013.

In making his ruling on contact Lord Brailsford comments that considerable care requires to be taken in devising a plan aimed at re-establishing direct contact.

“My view is that contact by means of Skype, or similar electronic means, should be the first step. An appropriate period for this would, in my view, be relatively short, say three or four sessions. This would be followed by a number of sessions of supervised direct contact, my view would be for a period of approximately three months with sessions at fortnightly intervals. Thereafter, and if the foregoing was successful unsupervised contact could be commenced.”

The judgment stresses that there is an overriding duty on the child’s parents to put aside any antipathy, distrust or resentment held towards a former spouse in order to ensure that their child is not exposed to the sort of risks identified by Professor MacKay in his evidence.

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