Mother refused meaningful access to teenage daughter in ‘profoundly sad’ case

Court hears woman has serious alcohol problem and was violent to her children

The court the woman had a history of alcohol problems. Photograph: Alan Betson

The court the woman had a history of alcohol problems. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A High Court judge has upheld orders refusing a mother, who has serious alcohol and other problems, meaningful access to her teenage daughter whom she has not seen in more than a year.

In what he described as a “profoundly sad” case, Mr Justice Max Barrett directed the mother may only send cards, notes and small gifts on the girl’s birthday and at Christmas, plus a weekly “general” text to her which cannot be sent if the mother is under the influence of alcohol at the time.

That limited access was ordered on foot of reports from a psychotherapist that this form of access was in the girl’s best interests, including her mental health, and the evidence in the case.

The woman has also not seen her older daughter, now aged 18, for well over a year but she was not subject of Thursday’s judgment.

In an unusual move, the judge attached a letter addressed directly to the woman and her former husband, the father of both girls, at the end of his judgment.

In that letter, he said much of his judgment “might seem like legal jargon” and wanted to identify the key points affecting them.

Remarried

He told the woman, on condition she undertakes to the court not to ring the younger daughter, referred to as X, and stay away from her school, as well as stay away from her former husband (who has since remarried), his wife and both children, she could send cards, short notes and small gifts to X at Christmas and birthdays, addressed to her ex-husband and to be kept safely by him until X wishes to receive them.

The woman will also be allowed to send a “general” text message weekly to X, for as long as X wished that, which must not pressurise the girl. No text could be sent under the influence of alcohol and her ex-husband may periodically cast an eye over the texts.

The judge suggested the woman give the keenest consideration to seeking further treatment, including residential treatment, for her relationship with alcohol.

In his remarks to the father, the judge said the father should facilitate the mother’s limited access as that was deemed in X’s best interests. He asked him to keep safe any cards, notes or gifts addressed to him but intended for X, should X ever ask for those. He said the woman is entitled to see X’s medical and school reports and the father should forward those to her without her having to ask him for them.

The judgment concerned the woman’s appeal against a Circuit Court judgment in judicial separation proceedings involving the couple, since divorced. The man said there had been serious difficulties in their marriage for some years due to the woman’s misuse of alcohol and resulting behaviour.

The Circuit Court had granted the father sole custody of both girls and the mother’s High Court appeal mainly centred on access to them.

Mr Justice Barrett said the High Court hearing was a “deeply trying one” in which the mother “repeatedly and genuinely cried” and insisted the person depicted in the pleadings is not the real her, she is a good person who has always worked hard until, latterly, her life has “nose-dived”.

The court accepted the person in the pleadings may well not be her as she once was and that “drink changes a person”.

Regrettably, the facts as recounted by her ex-husband and their children “ring true”, the court had to act on what had historically occurred over a prolonged timeframe and some of that was most unpleasant for the man and children. They and other witnesses had told a consistent tale and there was no evidence of “coaching”.

Crashed car

The evidence included the woman once crashed her car, in which X was a passenger, into a wall and was taken from her workplace a number of times by emergency services due to alcohol.

The older daughter, in an interview when aged 16, had depicted a home environment in which her mother had a heavy drinking problem, presenting drunk at home and at work, being very controlling and hitting that girl often. X was aged 10 when first interviewed by the psychotherapist and told of her mother being drunk every night, assaulting her paternal grandmother and repeatedly hitting her older sister. X also said she had been the recipient of “excessive” phone texts after her parents broke up.

In a later interview, X spoke of being afraid of her mother, fearful she might come to her school or home and described contact from her mother as “too much”.

The judge noted the psychotherapist considered the children were now in a stable home with their father and stepmother and had concluded X had formed a free view, appropriate for her age, and was clear she did not wish to see her mother at this time.