NI High Court: Parental order refused for ‘vindictive’ father who called police on his son’s mother

NI High Court: Parental order refused for 'vindictive' father who called police on his son's mother

Northern Ireland’s High Court has upheld the refusal of a parental order for a “vindictive” father who called police on the mother of his 11-year-old son under false pretences.

The court found that a County Court judge was right to refuse the application for a parental responsibility order and a direct contact order, considering the best interests of the child and the father’s general lack of commitment to the child.


In 2015, orders were made for indirect contact of letters and cards every month and telephone contact every two months between the father and his son (EL). An application for a parental responsibility order was refused.

Subsequent to that order, sufficient progress was made and this resulted in the child enjoying weekly direct contact with his father. In April 2019, the father issued proceedings for a contact order “to reflect the contact that I am having now” and for a parental responsibility order.

In June 2019, the court found a mediated solution which proposed weekly contact for six hours every Sunday in the father’s home.

Around this time, the police had cause to raid the father’s home in respect of a drug-related investigation. This meant that weekly contact had to instead take place in the community, until the investigation was completed and it was determined whether the father’s home exposed EL to any risk.

Notwithstanding this, the mother did agree to EL seeing his father in the father’s home over Christmas 2019. Around this time, the father sent the mother abusive text messages.

On 29 December 2019, the father attended the mother’s home where she was residing with EL and her parents. An altercation took place between the father and the maternal grandfather. EL, then 10 years old, witnessed the altercation and thereafter refused to see his father, refusing all forms of indirect and direct contact.

During the pandemic, the mother relocated to Donegal. The father subsequently called the police on her, falsely claiming breach of a court order and raising false safeguarding issues in respect of EL.

After this, the father did write an apology letter to EL. However, the child reported that he was scared of his father after the December 2019 incident and still did not want to see him.

Craigavon Family Care Centre

Judge McCormick, at Craigavon Family Care Centre, determined that the mother prioritised EL’s need over her own “natural vexation” concerning the father. She ordered a detailed indirect contact regime be put in place, with the hope that this, in time, may lead to consideration of direct contact.

She refused to make an order for parental responsibility, as she did not believe that this would enhance EL’s welfare. She noted the father’s lack of clear and consistent commitment, his disparaging comments about the child’s maternal relatives, and what was referred to in the judgment as “bare-faced lies” told to the court about the father involving the police in Donegal.

She considered that the father’s application was driven by the father’s need to establish power over the child.

The father’s appeal

The father appealed in respect of both orders. He argued that the contact order was too restrictive, and EL’s views were given too much weight. He argued EL was influenced by his mother, and that an indirect contact order was not in the child’s best interests.

In relation to parental responsibility, he argued that this order focused too much on his conduct, which he asserted was neither egregious, nor grounds to refuse such an order.

The court noted that the key consideration is the welfare of the child, assessed under Article 3(3) of the Children (NI) Order 1995. The main factors for consideration were the degree of commitment shown towards the child, the degree of attachment between father and child, and the reasons why the father was applying for a parental order.

The court also noted that there was no evidence that the mother was in any way obstructing contact between EL and his father. She had been the subject of abusive conduct from the father, and despite this she had facilitated contact.

She participated in the court directed mediation, which led to unsupervised contact in the father’s home. This ultimately failed, through no fault of the mother. Although the father argued that the mother was “contaminating EL’s mind against him”, there was no evidence to support this.

The court next considered the father’s confrontation on 29 December 2019, which was acted out in the presence of the child. The father “chose to conduct himself in an entirely inappropriate manner in front of his son”.

Judge McCormick also noted the absence of any apology until the court ordered him to send one to the child over a year later.

She then dealt with the involvement of the police when the mother went to Donegal with the child. This was determined to be a vindictive call, which was previously threatened to the mother’s partner by Facebook message.

The court also considered how the father had acted in the year since these decisions were made. Of the six indirect contacts offered to the father during this period, he only availed of two.

The court found that this indirect contact, which was supposed to involve sending EL a letter or card and a small present every two months, was “not considered a significant burden […] but it would appear that it is for the father”.

Ultimately, the court found that Judge McCormick’s conclusions were plainly correct. The father had shown no real commitment to the child, and had not taken up any opportunity to support the child in any practical way.

This included financial contributions, but also more routine matters, such as attending school sports day. In fact, his failure to avail of contact after the order “speaks volumes to the level of his commitment”.

Judge McCormick was satisfied that the mother would also continue to fulfil her obligations concerning EL’s educational and health needs without the need for a court order.


The court determined that Judge McCormick was entirely correct in finding that she should not make a parental responsibility order in favour of the father as it would do little to enhance the welfare of EL.

The appeal was dismissed and the order of the Family Care Centre was affirmed.

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