A judgment which has just been published highlights the tensions between upholding children’s human rights in cases where they have been damaged by observing the severe domestic abuse of a parent, with the law’s inability to sever parental responsibility so the child can achieve closure.

The case involved a father with mental health challenges who had inflicted serious domestic abuse upon the mother which had resulted in the mother and the children having to relocate and conceal their identities, at the advice of the police.

The father was married to the mother at the time, which means he has automatic and everlasting parenting responsibility (PR) under the law in England and Wales. The mother challenged the father’s right to retain his PR under human rights legislation.

While the court has done everything to minimise the extent to which the father can intervene in the two children’s lives, the children themselves wanted to be able to cut all legal ties in order to heal and move on.

The judge hearing the case explained that the court did not have the power to do this.

The case itself opens up a very important debate about the weaknesses of our family justice system: its inability to provide protection for children at a fundamental level; the irrational distinction between the rights of married and unmarried fathers which do not take into account the realities of parenting on the ground; and the failure to understand just how important – and powerful – severing legal ties can be for children who have been forever altered by abuse.

To the judge’s credit, she does acknowledge the serious problems the law poses when she says:

“The Court does not question the harmful effects that FZ’s [father’s] past behaviour has had on MZ [mother] and the children but cannot by its judgment provide counsel or support to MZ and the children in coming to terms emotionally with what has happened in the past that they want; such support must be provided by professionals with the expertise to do so.

The limitations of litigation in providing closure or emotional relief are not the subject of this case but remain of concern to the Court.”

There is a very good summary over on LexisNexis for subscribers.

The judgment itself can be read for free on BAILII.