If you cannot reach an agreement with your former partner about arrangements for your children, one of you may apply to the family court for an independent decision. The courts have a wide range of powers in deciding where a child should live and how often they should see each of their parents. In most cases, a court will want to preserve a relationship between a child and both of their parents, even if it recognises that one parent’s behaviour is far from ideal.
‘Understandably this can sometimes be difficult to accept, especially if your relationship with your partner has disintegrated and you have serious concerns about your child’s safety,’ says Sarah Lightfoot-Webber, family law expert at Lawcomm Solicitors in Whiteley, Hampshire. ‘However, if you fail to follow the orders of the court or are uncooperative in repeated attempts to find an acceptable solution, you could find yourself labelled as ‘implacably hostile’. This could have very serious consequences for you and your relationship with your child, as such hostility can be viewed as a form of emotional abuse.’
What does ‘implacably hostile’ mean?
Implacably hostile is a term used by courts to describe extreme and persistent behaviour by one parent to prevent their child seeing and having a relationship with the other parent.
When someone is described as ‘implacably hostile’ it tends to be accompanied with a description of behaviour which paints a negative picture of a bitter parent, focused on vengeful acts against their former partner.
However, Sarah Lightfoot-Webber explains that often when this allegation is made, the parent is not bitter or intentionally vengeful but is focused on their belief of what is in their child’s welfare interests and is fearful of their child suffering harm or neglect by having contact with the alleging parent.
What behaviours amount to implacable hostility?
There have been many cases over the past thirty years that have considered the full range of actions by parents, and which actions meet the definition of implacable hostility.
These range from consistent breaches of contact agreements to extreme and blatant manipulation of a child against one parent and can include:
• repeatedly failing to permit a child to see or talk to your former partner;
• not passing on messages, cards, letters, or gifts left by your former partner for the child;
• telling the child that your former partner does not care about them or cares more about a ‘new family’;
• suggesting fun and exciting things for your child to do as an alternative to seeing your former partner;
• making negative remarks in front of your child about your former partner; and
• making false allegations that your former partner has in some way harmed your child.
Consequences for children
Implacable hostility can have serious implications for your child’s wellbeing and welfare both now and into the long term, as it damages your child’s prospects of having a good loving relationship with both their parents. This can lead to a lower sense of self-worth and feelings of being less secure and loved. It has also been shown that children can feel paranoid as a result of being exposed to implacably hostile behaviour.
Options for the court
If the court determines that you have been implacably hostile, then it may order that your child spends extended periods of time with your former partner. In extreme cases a guardian may even be appointed to represent your child at court, or a court can decide that your child would be better off living with your former partner and having limited contact with you.
What if I have behaved in this way?
Having read this far, you may be feeling either relieved that your behaviour cannot be criticised in this way, or you may be concerned that you have done things which might be seen as implacably hostile. If you recognise some of the behaviours or are nonetheless concerned that you may be seen by a court to be implacably hostile, it is important to address it head on.
If your actions are taken out of a fear for your child’s welfare, then your concerns need to be aired. If a court determines your concerns are legitimate, for example, a significant risk of harm could be caused to your child if direct contact occurs between them and your former partner, then a court will not find you to be implacably hostile. This may be where your child has suffered abuse at the hands of your former partner. It is wise to take early legal advice before stopping any contact between your child and your former partner, as if your concerns are not found to be valid it can have a detrimental impact on your child and your relationship with them.
If the court decides that your concerns are not legitimate or are minor in nature and, on balance, they do not outweigh the benefit your child will get from having contact with your former partner, then you may be found to be implacably hostile.
Safeguards available to the court
Where you have valid concerns regarding your former partner, it is understandable that you may wish to cease all contact, however often safeguarding measures can be put in place to alleviate any risks.
For example, if your former partner has been convicted previously of drink driving, you may be very worried that they will drive under the influence with your child in the car. Clearly if that occurred there is a significant risk of harm to your child which you would rightly be very concerned about. However, rather than stopping your child seeing your former partner altogether, it may be better to put in place a safeguard that would prevent them driving with your child. This could mean that contact occurs in a community setting such as a soft play area, where you can drop the child off and collect them. It also allows you to satisfy yourself your former partner is not under the influence of alcohol.
Safeguards can be used as a short-term solution to build trust, or they may be needed in the longer term depending on the nature of the concerns.
Ultimately, the court will put the best interests of the child first, and it is likely to find that a child will benefit from having a relationship with both parents.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.