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Separated Parents with Differing Parenting Styles

There have been widespread reports this week of a recent High Court case in which a transfer of residence was made over concerns about the mother’s lack of parenting ability and in particular, concern that she was ‘too permissive’ and failed to set necessary boundaries.

It is reported that the mother had initially gained residence of the boys, now 11 and 14 in 2002, when their father was awarded weekend contact, but had failed to allow contact to take place as it should and had exhibited a “pathological hatred” of the father. When giving judgment transferring residence to the father, the High Court Judge expressed concerns that the mother had been unable to prioritise the needs of the boys above her very strong feelings of hate towards the father to the extent it risked their wellbeing.

The Court heard concerns that the mother was more like a friend to the children than a parent and failed to set the kind of boundaries that they would need in order to fulfil their potential, and that this had impacted on various aspects of their lives, including their education. In contrast, it was considered that the father had shown insight into the needs of the boys, and had put together proposals for how he would implement routine, boundaries and discipline into their care.

The judgment makes it clear that many separated parents have different parenting styles, and that it is only right to intervene when the parenting of one falls to a standard which is impacting negatively upon the children and their development. The case should not be used as a ‘green light’ for parents who have concerns about less fundamental aspects of parenting to seek a change of residence. Certain disagreement about parenting styles can be addressed more appropriately in family group meetings, or through family Mediation.

The case does, however, serve as a reminder of the robust approach the Courts will take in expecting parents to separate out their grievances with each other from the arrangements for the children, and that they will intervene if a parent is allowing adult issues to impact upon the child’s ability to have a relationship with both parents.

Cases such as this one are often finely balanced and difficult and can require a creative approach to how they are best solved. Rushing in with an aggressive approach can be counter-productive and anyone who has concerns about the parenting style or ability is advised to seek legal advice as to the best way forward before commencing proceedings.

By Cara Nuttall, a Family Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

Slater and Gordon have offices in England & Wales offering both flexible pricing and fixed fees for family law and divorce. For a free initial consultation call freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help.