What if absent parent turns up?

Question:

Hi there I am slightly confused in trying to help my brother.

The situation is this: a child was removed from the mother’s care and placed into care, her dad then fought for custody.

The dad won a residence order for permanent residence until the child turns 18, she is 3 now and the mother has made no contact, she hasn’t even attempted contact with the child for 2 years.

Dad is terrified she could come anytime and demand to see the child, due to the reason why she was taken into care in the first place and the fact she hasn’t even bothered for 2 years.

He wants the right to refuse. Can he? Or if he does can she take legal action based on his current order as it doesn't state whether she can/cannot see the child. Given the previous situation we think she shouldn't be allowed near the child.

Answer:

The father of the child has a
Residence Order. Legally that means that the child lives with her father in his day to day care. In general he is in charge of who the child meets and has contact with. The child’s father would have every reason to initially refuse direct contact between the child and the mother if she suddenly turned up out of the blue and asked to see the child, based on her prolonged absence and whatever she did to lead the child to be taken into care in the first place.

If the child’s father refused to allow contact then the mother will have only one choice - to make an application to court for a contact order. If she ‘took matters into her own hands’ i.e. sought contact with the child against the father’s wishes, for example by visiting the child’s school/nursery, he can apply to court for a prohibited steps order or an injunction.

Either way, the matter may end up back in court. Unfortunately I suspect from what you tell me it is unlikely either the father or the mother would qualify for legal aid, although it may be worth the father asking a solicitor as he may qualify under the ‘protective party’ test. See my blog on it
here.

The issues are not entirely straightforward as the court would need to look at what is in the child’s long term interests. If the mother is still unreliable and beset with the difficulties that lead to the child being taken into care in the first place, then it is probable that a court would not think contact would be a good idea as it will do more harm than good. In all likelihood she will have to go to great lengths to satisfy the court that she has changed. However, if the mother’s circumstances have changed and she can convince the court that she will be reliable, the court may consider that some contact is a good idea, perhaps starting off with indirect contact (cards, letters, photographs etc), progressing to some direct contact (face to face). Ultimately the court would consider all the things in the
welfare checklist.

If the mum does ‘turn up’ asking for contact, it may be that
mediation would be a good idea. This can be a better way of getting adult feelings of resentment and fear out in the open. I’m sure that the father would feel many negative things if mum did turn up, even if she were a ‘changed person’. The court arena is often not the best place to deal with and communicate those feelings.

It is also worthwhile remembering that it is likely the child will at some stage be curious about her mother. This is entirely natural as part of her comes from her mother. She will have many questions - what does my mother look like? Why did she not want me? What could she not look after me? Will I turn out like her? You can imagine all this things that will be likely to go through her head at various times as she grows up. It is important that these questions are answered sensitively and carefully in an honest and age appropriate manner but also without ‘demonising’ her mother. If she thinks her mother has no redeeming features whatsoever what does that tell her about herself?

Sometimes it can be very hard for another parent or relative to see any good in the absent parent, for entirely understandable reasons. Sometimes if a child displays curiosity about an absent parent it stirs up feelings of rejection in the parent that has committed to that child. These are hard emotions to come to terms with. The temptation is to avoid those feeling and deflect the child’s questions, which is not always the right thing to do in the long term. Any future court would, counter intuitively, be
more likely to order contact if it came to the view that the child only received negative messages about her mother at her father’s home. Remember that silence and refusing to talk about someone can often be as negative as positively denigrating someone. Children are very perceptive when it comes to ‘unspoken’ messages. Ideally the remaining parent should not wait for the child to ask questions but should treat talking about an absent parent as a normal and healthy thing to do.

At this stage there is nothing specific that dad should do in terms of legal action, other than make sure he keeps all the papers and orders from the care proceedings so that he could easily show any future court what happens and why he objects to contact. He should and can of course make the child’s school/nursery aware that he has a residence order and that the court did not grant the child’s mother any contact and that the child has not seen her mother for a long time.

I hope this helps.




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