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England and Wales Family Court Decisions (other Judges)
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Cite as:  EWFC B29
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THE FAMILY COURT
Sitting at Milton Keynes
†Milton Keynes Magistratesí Court
Date: 9 May, 2017
B e f o r e:
DISTRICT JUDGE (MAGISTRATESí
Ms Samantha Dunn (Woodfines)
appeared on behalf of the Father
Ms Julia Shillingford (Thomas Haywood) appeared on behalf of the Mother
HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT
Crown Copyright ©
i. C to speak to his Father on the phone
iii. The Father to have C every other weekend from Friday school to 5pm on Sunday or 6pm on Monday where there is a bank holiday weekend
i. a memorial service usually in April, 2017 one evening 7pm to 9pm (described by the Father as taking place in a school hall and comprising of a 45 minute talk and an opening and closing song and prayer with child friendly activities)
ii. a weekend convention at a stadium usually in July/August (described by the Father as like a Sunday service but on a bigger scale featuring video dramas, short talks and re-enactments (e.g. how to publicly proclaim the faith without shame according to the Father) with adults and children leaving as and when they want to) Ė the Father says he will limit Cís involvement to no more than 3 hours
iii. Sunday services from 10am to 12noon (according to the Father consisting mainly of songs, prayers and bible discussion with family friendly activities Ė the children can get involved in discussion points if they want to).
iv. Two Assemblies of one day over a weekend in April and December 10am to 4pm in London (described by the Father as similar to conventions including played out dramas, short talks and baptisms) Ė the Father says he will limit Cís involvement to no more than 3 hours
vi. The detail of holiday contact
vii. What to do in the event of a medical emergency
viii. Whether a s7 report is necessary.
(a) are committed to converting others; they give time each week to further and spread their beliefs, engaging in house to house evangelism; it is common for Jehovahís Witnesses to take their children with them on this house to house ministry;
(b) are committed to studying the Bible (using their own translation of the Bible, the New World Translation) both in their meetings at the Kingdom Hall and individually, at home;
(d) believe that blood transfusions are against the will of God; they therefore refuse blood transfusions or the use of blood products in the course of medical treatment, whether for themselves or for their children;
(e) refuse military service; they do not believe in war;
(g) do not engage in ecumenical relationships or in inter-faith dialogue; they are an insular movement.
4. A parentís right to enable his or her child to learn about and experience his or her religion is not an unconfined right. Where the practice of that religion involves a lifestyle which conflicts with the lifestyle of the other parent and the court is satisfied that the conflict had had or may have in the future an impact on the childís welfare the court is entitled to restrict the childís involvement in those practices. The state can interfere where the practice of religious beliefs impacts on a childís welfare. For example an insightful parent of a particular religious persuasion recognises the potential for harm to his or her child by immersing that child in those beliefs and practices in a way that jeopardises that childís enduring relationship with the other parent. Adherence to any faith cannot be more important than fostering a good relationship between the child and the other parent
5. Restrictions imposed for welfare reasons do not necessarily amount to a breach of that parentís right to follow the beliefs and practices of his or her religion provided that any restriction imposed is justified by the findings made by the court and are proportionate.
a) The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child(ren) concerned; C is too young to express his wishes and feelings. I suspect if asked he would say that he wants to feel safe and secure and have a good relationship with both of his parents. He would not want either parent to say anything nasty or unpleasant about the other and for his parents to be nice to each other even though they are living apart.†
b) The (childís)(childrenís) physical, emotional and educational needs; C needs safe, secure and stable parenting with consistent boundaries given his age. He needs an enduring relationship with both of his parents. This is of particular importance given his mixed heritage. His Mother has described C as an impressionable child who is easily confused and with problems regulating his emotions. Both parents describe him as bright, delightful, cheeky, energetic and sporty. C enjoys sports such as swimming and trampolining.††
c) style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'> The likely effect on the (child)(children) of any change in circumstances; C currently lives with his Mother and spends about 6 hours a week with his Father over Tuesdays and Wednesdays and additionally every other weekend. In terms of overall time this amounts to roughly 70% of Cís time being spent with in his Motherís care (though he is at school or at other activities for some of that time) and 30% of his time with his Father. The suggested changes for C are for him to be involved with his Fatherís faith by attending Sunday services and the convention and assemblies outlined above. In addition the Father seeks half of holiday time which would be an increase on the current amount of time C spends with his Father over school holidays. I will deal with the likely effect on C of these suggested changes at the end of my judgement.
e) Any harm the (child has)(children have) suffered or (is)(are) at risk of suffering; it is more likely than not that C has been harmed by his parentsí separation. Some of that upset will no doubt relate directly to the Father becoming ill, the stresses that led to the end of the Motherís and Fatherís relationship and the Father leaving the family home. It is more difficult to assign whether upset has been caused by the Father involving C in the Fatherís faith. The Mother makes reference to C saying to her ĎGod is good and you are badí (C25 paragraph 8 of the bundle). When C said this not clear and I have assumed it was sometime before August, 2016. Both parents accept that C has been more settled at school since January, 2017. He still has play therapy. †In my judgement it is more likely than not that he became more settled once he started seeing his Father regularly in December, 2016. The hope is that C will remain settled in the future now that the court proceedings in relation to him have been brought to an end. The Father has conceded that he should not be involved in one to one teaching with C in his faith and should not show C Jehovahís Witness cartoons and like media that could be harmful to C. In my judgement this was a wise concession. I watched 3 cartoons produced by the Jehovah Witness Church: ĎObey Jehovahí, ĎPay attention at meetingsí and ĎOne man one womaní. In ĎObey Jehovahí a child is taught about the sinfulness of having a cartoon character toy with magical powers which the child had to put in a bin. While making sense to a child if both parents were Jehovahís Witnesses such a cartoon would send a very confusing message to a child like C who has one foot in his Motherís world and a wider world (in which magical characters are everywhere in books, television, DVDs, on the internet and in films) and his other foot in his Fatherís world where such magical characters are sinful. The Mother asserts that in her submissions that the objective of the cartoons and bible stories is to condition and indoctrinate children into Jehovahís Witness beliefs through a mixture of fear, manipulation and a strict boundary between behaviour which is acceptable and pleasing and that which is not. The Father accepts that C should not be exposed to such religious based media until C is at least 12 years of age. Given that it is accepted that C is more settled and there is no recent evidence of C saying inappropriate things to his Mother it appears to me that the Father is complying with his promise not to adversely influence C as Mother fears.
f) The capability of the parents and any other relevant persons of meeting the (childís)(childrenís) needs; †the Mother has been the consistent figure in Cís life. She struck me as the organiser who plans and organises the great majority of Cís many activities. For example she set up an i-calendar for the Father so that he knows about all the various activities C is involved in. She also struck me as the parent who sets firm boundaries and thinks of the best ways of manage C e.g. using a traffic light system for discipline. She struck me as being over anxious about C but this is a mild criticism. The Father on the other hand struck me as less organised and not as concerned with routines and boundaries as Mother. The Mother was critical of the Father in not backing her up in terms. While understanding her criticism I must give some leeway for each parent to be free to have different parenting styles. I was not satisfied on the evidence that the Father was not committed to Cís activities and routine. I accepted his evidence that he supported the Mother and made his own efforts to speak to the school and Cís therapist. While I pay tribute to the organisational skills and commitment of the Mother this does not mean that the Father is less committed Ė only that he is content to leave the organisation to the Mother and on occasion to parent C in his own way.
a. The Mother contended that I may not be able to trust the Father given his changing positions during the course of the proceedings and late concessions. The Mother argued that the Father lacked insight. I disagree. In my judgement the Father made sensible concessions, with some judicial prompting from me, and changes to the child arrangements order he sought. His changing position demonstrated to me insight and awareness particularly taking into account my warnings to him of the consequences for his relationship with C if he behaves in the way the Mother did in Re N. I noted that the Father did say that he saw nothing wrong in the religious based cartoons and that he had breached his undertaking and shown religious based cartoons to C. I accepted his evidence that he realised that this was wrong, that he does not want to jeopardise his relationship with C or with the Mother and that he will be bound by formal undertakings given to the court and recorded in the court order. †
g) The range of powers available to the Court under this Act in the proceedings in question; I have available to me the full range of s8 orders.
I have considered Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Ďthe right to respect for private and family life,í in relation C and each of his parents. I also have had regard to Article 9 Ďthe right to religious freedomí within the legal framework set down in Re N.
25. Shared care: Shared care does not reflect the reality that each week the Mother cares or is responsible for C for 70 per cent of the time (albeit for some of that time C is at school and at other activities). I appreciate that the parents share weekends alternately but the bulk of the responsibility for caring for C and planning and organising his many activities falls on the Mother. I have found that she is the organiser who has shown a great deal of commitment in organising therapy for C and in helping the Father in maintaining continuity with Cís many activities. The orders that reflect this reality are orders that C live with his Mother and spend time with his Father rather than a shared care order. This in no way takes away that parenting is a joint responsibility. The Father should not see this as some kind of loss for him or some kind of victory for the Mother or that he is a lesser parent. It reflects the reality of the time spent between the two parents and who has taken the lead in organising Cís life and responding to his needs particularly in terms of therapy.
26. Holiday contact: I agree with the Father that the Motherís position on holiday contact is illogical. C spends alternate weekends overnight with his Father. I cannot see any risk to C of spending longer periods overnight with his Father. There is no evidence that C does not enjoy spending overnight with his Father. I agree with the Mother that C needs routines and has a full range of activities organised for him. I accept the Fatherís evidence that he is respectful of such activities and routines but has some leeway for him to parent C in his own way. The Mother accepts that the Father has looked after C for a number of weekends from December, 2015 without adverse effects As a result I make the following orders for holiday contact:
27. School holidays: that the Father has C for half of school holidays with the days to be agreed between the parties.
28. Summer holiday: that the Father has C for half of the summer holidays with the periods to be agreed between the parties. This can include C spending 2 weeks with his Father and a separate 3rd week. The alternate weekend contact is suspended over the summer period so that each parent can take C away on holiday for 2-3 weeks. †
30. Kingdom Hall/Assemblies/Annual Conventions and Memorials: the Father impressed me with the concessions he, in my judgement, sensibly made. As a result I have confidence in him that he will abide by his undertakings which I have already referred to. I heard no evidence that he was in any way devious or manipulative in the way the Mother was in Re N whereby she defied court orders and so badly influenced her child whereby she lost care of him. Indeed I am satisfied of the Fatherís genuine motivation that C maintains his strong relationship with his Mother. Applying Re N (in particular at 16.3 above) I find that C should have the opportunity to learn and experience his Fatherís religion. I therefore do not wish to restrict him from taking C to the Kingdom Hall each Sunday for up to 2 hours. I do not see that this practice of the Fatherís faith for a limited period within a group service with child friendly activities poses a risk of jeopardy to Cís relationship with his Mother. C has attended 2 meetings at the Kingdom Hall when he spent time colouring in and playing with other children. I accepted the Fatherís evidence that the service mainly consists of songs, prayers and bible discussions and that the services are designed for families with children and the content pitched accordingly. I accept that there is no guarantee that the kind of material shown to me by way of bible stories and/or religious based cartoons may not be shown during such services but I consider the risk to C small within the context of this kind of service. Many parents co-parent a child despite pursuing different or no faiths without emotional harm to the child. In addition I see no reason why the Father, on his alternate weekends, should not choose to take C to the Kingdom Hall in place of any other activity arranged on Sunday mornings by the Mother. I do not find it unreasonable for C to spend one Sunday morning doing one activity and the following Sunday morning at the Kingdom Hall. This respects the different parenting provided by each parent. It also balances the respect for one parentís religious beliefs and the right of that parent to introduce his son to those beliefs within the context of a service of 1-2 hours. I consider the risk that C will be given messages that endanger his relationship with his Mother are sufficiently small whereby it is not necessary or proportionate to limit the Father in the practice of his religious beliefs and involving C in them via Kingdom Hall Sunday services. I heard evidence about C playing rugby on Sunday mornings and then giving it up. I was unable to make findings as to why C gave up rugby Ė whether because he simply no longer wanted to play or whether because of a lack of commitment or discouragement from the Father. I repeat that I do not consider it unreasonable for one parent to take his child to a religious service in preference to another activity.
31. I take a different view of Assemblies, Annual Conventions and Memorials. These are much longer events. The Father has undertaken to limit Cís involvement to no more than 3 hours. Nevertheless these events strike me as more intense, focussed, longer and instructive than Sunday Kingdom Hall services. At his young age I find that there is a far greater likelihood that C will be subject to kind of instruction akin to the one to one teaching and the religious based media the Father has undertaken not to involve C in. Such events are likely to involve smaller groups. In his evidence the Father described one activity as members of the Church giving testimonials e.g. on street ministry. There is a far greater risk that C will be influenced in the way the child was in Re N with disastrous consequences given his age and how impressionable he is and the risk of emotional damage due to confusing messages. As a result I find it necessary and proportionate to prohibit the Father from taking C to Jehovahís Witness Assemblies, Annual Conventions and Memorials. The Father acknowledged that such a restriction was one I was likely to consider and asked that I time limit any restriction to a date when C was old enough to know his own mind. I find the Fatherís argument too much of a crystal ball gazing exercise dependant on too many variables so I propose to make the order until C is sixteen years of age subject to the Mother and Father agreeing otherwise or either party making application to the court to vary the prohibited steps order e.g. when C is old enough to ask either of his parents to attend an Assembly, Convention or Memorial and either parents agree that this is in his best interests or the court rules accordingly. The same applies to the Fatherís concessions about Field Service, one to one teaching and showing C religious based media. These undertakings must remain in place until sixteen years of age or until the parents both agree otherwise or further application to the court.
This is my decision.
9 May, 2017