At what point should the court take notice of ‘bad’ parenting?

4 March, 2014
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

A recent decision from the High Court caught my eye last month on an issue that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently: “At what point should the court take notice of bad parenting” and what should be done about it? This is a question I am often asked by concerned parents following the separation from their partner. Well, this case seems to offer a bit of guidance.

The High Court ruled that a mother’s ‘permissive’ parenting style might actually be more neglectful than a simple casual and hands off approach. The judge ruled that the boys (aged 11 and 14) should live in the future with their father because their mother treated them more as best friends and effectively let them do whatever they wanted including miss school, not do their homework, be late for classes, play computer games and go to bed at irregular times.

The couple separated in 2002 and a previous court had ordered in 2004 that the children should live with their mother and have weekend contact with their father. However, the High Court heard that the father had experienced a lot of difficulties establishing contact with his children, with the mother regularly denying contact. He therefore petitioned for the boys to live with him.

The Mother argued her parenting style was not excessively lenient, that the children had a 10 pm bedtime, that they were well-mannered and had an impeccable record at school. Whilst the judge did not doubt that she loved the children, he found this love to have a ‘possessive quality’ stating that she was so preoccupied with her deep resentment of the father (who had an affair before their marriage broke up in 2002) that it meant she overlooked the needs of the children. The judge said, ‘I am satisfied that there is a failure to provide proper guidance and boundaries essential for the social and emotional development of these pre-adolescent and adolescent boys. Further, I have real concerns about her as a role model’

The fact that the judge took the unusual step of removing the boys from living with their mother (although she was still allowed to have contact with them) highlights to me just how seriously the court is now taking this issue. It sends a serious a message that the court is likely to consider that parents who don’t set limits or establish routines and reward their children with computer games are actually at risk of harming their children.