The Family Court has recently released the judgment of Mrs Justice Pauffley (a High Court judge) in the case of Re: D ("D" being the code name of the child concerned in the case).
Essentially, D is a 10 year old girl who has been very aware of the very acrimonious court proceedings between her parents that had been raging since she was 6. When you read the judgment transcript your heart will go out to that little girl who has seen her parents fall out with each other whilst doing nothing to hide their bitterness from her.
The judge decided that neither parents were "villains", but they had both failed their daughter by the way they conducted themselves. Reasonable people behaving unreasonably - something I see quite a lot in my job.
It is only fortunate for D that, once the adults had told their side of the story to the judge, each were able to calm down and see a way through to a compromise. The judge had this to say at the end of her judgment -
"53. It is often relatively straightforward to be wise with the benefit of hindsight. But this case exemplifies how important, even crucial, it is for the court to hear evidence in those private law disputes which show signs of being impervious to very early compromise. The process of describing the difficulties of itself, for those most intimately involved, can be immensely cathartic.
54. The court can only make informed child arrangements orders when there is a full understanding of why relationships between parents have faltered. Trying to impose what may seem like common sense proposals, against the wishes of one parent and without permitting each of them the opportunity for a proper hearing may impede rather than expedite progress. A sticking plaster over a gaping and infected wound would never be an adequate treatment plan.
55. Where, as here, ill feeling and mistrust have persisted for years the parents may come to believe – with some justification – that their litigation problems will never end. Almost always, the impact upon their child / children will be profoundly damaging. Ensuring early and appropriately child centred finality must be a priority in every private law case."
Sometimes as adults we try to impose solutions on situations like this without looking too deeply at the reasons for things becoming so tense. We reason that it must be a child's best interests not to see us arguing, even when (as in this case) the child has already seen more than her fair share of conflict! This judge's perspective is that often giving parents an early opportunity to give their versions of events will enable them to move past their feelings and concentrate on what is important - giving their daughter the kind of childhood she deserves!
It's not always that easy, but perhaps sometimes conflict can lead to a better outcome than bottling up bitterness.
Alex Davies is head of the family team at Cripps and you can view his profile here.