"Top judge backs tug-of-love dad"


Norfolk Eastern Daily Press

07 October 2004 08:32




A Norfolk mother was warned by a senior judge yesterday to comply with a visiting order that gives her ex-partner access to their daughter or face losing legal custody of the girl.


Last night, a Norfolk member of parents' rights campaigners Fathers 4 Justice welcomed the comments made by Lord Justice Thorpe in his landmark ruling at London 's Court of Appeal.


John Levis, East Anglian regional coordinator of the group, said: "It seems that for once common sense has prevailed."


The leading family judge delivered his stern lecture after hearing the six-year-old girl from the Cromer area, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had missed three consecutive overnight stays with her father.


The mother claimed her daughter was too upset to be allowed to go, but Lord Justice Thorpe said the girl's worries could only stem from her mother.


"Children's anxiety is contagious," said the judge. "She picks up on her mother's anxiety.


"It is as plain as the sequence which will follow if it goes on. The mother must clearly understand there will be contempt proceedings.


"The court may consider for the furtherance or the sustenance of the girl's relationship with her father it is necessary to remove the girl from the mother's care.


"These are terrible developments and if the mother hasn't understood that, then it's little short of tragic."


Last night, Mr Levis, who lives at Northwold, near Thetford, said: "It makes a change to hear of a judgment like this.


"One of the main issues we are tackling is that contact orders are made and then flouted. And then little happens, the only recourse being a return to court, which costs yet more time and money. There is no sanction. But from what I have heard of this case, it is common sense at last."


Mr Levis insisted there was an issue of "judgments changing with the wind" and his group would continue to battle for "an equal presumption of shared parenting". He also said F4J represented mothers as well as fathers, pursuing parenting equality between the sexes.


At yesterday's hearing, the judge insisted that the mother do everything in her power to get her daughter to go to the monthly overnight stays with her father.


"It is the mother's responsibility to prepare her for that visit," said Lord Justice Thorpe.


"She has the power to make it happen. We are not dealing with a rebellious 16-year-old."


The mother had been attempting to overturn an earlier decision, when a judge had concluded the father was mentally stable enough to look after the girl overnight.


The court heard the man had been suffering from depression and obsessive behaviour, but was making a good recovery.


Lord Justice Wall, who was sitting with Lord Justice Thorpe, dismissed the mother's appeal after listening to legal argument.


He said the mother could have no complaint about the decision, which was handed down at Norwich County Court in July.


After giving his judgment, which was backed by Lord Justice Thorpe, Lord Justice Wall added: "There can be nothing more normal, more appropriate, nor less stressful, than an overnight visit with her father."


Urging the parents to put their differences aside for the sake of their daughter, he said he did not want the case to turn into an "intransigent dispute".



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