A father has been granted parental responsibility for his son despite being denied direct contact with the boy. The Court of Appeal held that the two issues should be dealt with separately.
The case involved a couple who had a son during a brief relationship. They had split up before the boy was born but the father was present at the birth.
He later began legal proceedings seeking direct contact and an order for parental responsibility. An officer from Cafcass, the organisation that protects the rights of children, told the court that the mother was anxious that direct contact would cause psychological damage to the boy who was now settled with her and her new partner.
The officer accepted there was no objective foundation for this anxiety.
The justices, however, took it into account. They denied the father direct contact and only granted him indirect contact. They also refused to grant him parental responsibility on the basis that the mother feared it would lead to him trying to play a more active role in his son’s life, which could potentially be damaging.
The case then came before the Court of Appeal. It upheld the decision about direct contact but said that parental responsibility could be granted because the issues were separate. It said that children’s interests were paramount in cases like this and their self-esteem needed a favourable positive image of an absent father.
Wherever possible, the law should confer on a concerned father that “step of approval and the stamp of fatherhood”. Had the justices had that in mind, it was doubtful that they would have denied parental responsibility on the basis of the mother’s speculative anxiety.
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Elaine Webb | Partner
Family Department, Kerseys