In this case, which involved an application by a mother to take the children to America to live, the Court of Appeal noted that the parents had, to date, spent £850,000 on Court litigation about their children.
This family appeal strongly demonstrates the damage that is caused when separated parents fail to take the opportunity to resolve their differences. Instead of finding its own solutions, this family, which has every other advantage, has engaged in two years of litigation that has caused great unhappiness, not least to two teenage children. The dispute has been about money and about child arrangements. Aside from the emotional cost and general waste of life, the financial cost has been staggering. The parents have so far expended £850,000 on legal costs and even now their overall litigation is not at an end. The scale of the costs is particularly incongruous when the parents each claim that there was not enough money to go around before the costs were spent. The proceedings are yet another example of why the Family Court repeatedly attempts to divert parties into mediated solutions that allow them to keep control of their own affairs. The court is there to resolve disagreements that cannot be resolved in any other way but, as has been said before, it is not a third parent.
By way of comparison, to have educated both of the children at Eton would have still left enough money to buy each of them an Aston Martin DB9. I know lawyers are awesome, but I do think that probably a private school education and a DB9 would have done the children more good. [The money could even have bought a small cupboard in central London as a first step on the property ladder…]
To put it into more context, £850,000 is the figure that the Press have been aghast that Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton have spent on their divorce lawyers – and those are two considerably wealthy individuals arguing about a considerable amount of money.
Re C (Older Children:Relocation) 2015
The Court of Appeal also made some observations about the sliding and diminishing scale of the Court’s willingness to make orders about older children and ability to make orders that are effective.
A further and central element of the situation is that the children of this family are in fact young persons, being boys now aged 17 and 15. The case illustrates the particular caution that should be felt by any court seeking to make arrangements for children of this age. In the first place, it is likely to be inappropriate and even futile to make orders that conflict with the wishes of an older child. As was memorably said in Hewer v Bryant  1 QB 357 in a passage approved in Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority  1 AC 112: “… the legal right of a parent to the custody of a child ends at the eighteenth birthday and even up till then, it is a dwindling right which the courts will hesitate to enforce against the wishes of the child, the older he is. It starts with a right of control and ends with little more than advice.” Nowadays, the ‘no order’ principle goes even further and requires the court to justify making any order at all, regardless of whether it is in support of the child’s wishes or in opposition to them. With an older child, the court’s grasp cannot exceed its reach, any more than a parent’s can, and attempts to regulate something that is beyond effective regulation can only create a forum for disagreement and distract the family from solving its own problems.
As the Court had made orders about the two children previously, technically mother did need leave of the Court to remove the children from the jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal ruled that the older child ought no longer, at 17 to be subject to Court restrictions and orders, and thus there was no need for leave of the Court. If he wanted to move to America with mother, then he could move, and if he did not, he would not have to. In relation to the 15 year old, the mother’s appeal was refused, so he could not go to America with mother, but that all orders in relation to him would end when he was 16, so he could go then if he wished to.
- Our conclusion is that the general approach taken by this very experienced recorder was one that he was fully entitled to take. To the extent that the appeal is allowed in E’s case and, to a limited extent, in J’s, it is on a basis that was not argued below, namely in consequence of the ‘no order’ principle the court should not have been making or continuing orders about young persons over 16 other than in exceptional circumstances.
- As stated at the end of the hearing, the outcome allows the parents and E to discuss the arrangements for his future between them. It is a clear indication that this court does not consider it appropriate for it to contribute to that discussion in any way at all.
- In J’s case, the outcome of the appeal is that the mother may not take him to New York. That does not prevent the parents from discussing and reaching agreement about the future arrangements for his residence and schooling, but if they cannot do so the arrangements under the existing order will continue and the terms of s.13 Children Act 1989 will remain in effect.
- However, we shall direct that the existing order will cease to have effect in J’s case when he reaches the age of 16. This is a variation of the arrangements that was not the subject of appeal but it is in conformity with our decision in E’s case.
The proceedings have taken a heavy toll on the children, who emerge with great credit. It must be hard for them to live amidst such conflict. The parents must now bring an end to a situation where their children are being asked to make up for their own inability to communicate effectively. The hearing of this appeal took place on the second last day of the school Christmas term, meaning that the boys did not until that moment know whether or not they would be saying goodbye to their school and their friends. They deserve better, and it is to be hoped that the end of these proceedings and the imminent resolution of the financial case will bring some respite, or even something more enduring.
The Children Act 1989 s9, as amended in 2014, sets out the Court’s powers to make section 8 orders past the age of 16
“9 Restrictions on making section 8 orders
(6) No court shall make a section 8 order which is to have effect for a period which will end after the child has reached the age of sixteen unless it is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional.
(6A) Subsection (6) does not apply to a child arrangements order to which subsection (6B) applies.
(6B) This subsection applies to a child arrangements order if the arrangements regulated by the order relate only to either or both of the following –
(a) with whom the child concerned is to live, and
(b) when the child is to live with any person.
(7) No court shall make any section 8 order, other than one varying or discharging such an order, with respect to a child who has reached the age of sixteen unless it is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional.”
The Court of Appeal had therefore to look at whether a relocation application was a specific issue order, or whether it related to a variation of residence – they conclude that the Court ought properly when faced with an application about a child who was over 16 to consider that all orders should fall away (and thus mum would not NEED leave to remove from the jurisdiction)
- There is, regrettably, some lack of clarity about how relocation applications are to be classified. The debate, which is of long standing, is whether such an application is to be made under s.13 itself or by way of an application for a specific issue order under s.8. There are in my view good arguments for the latter: see the observations of Hale J in re M (above) at 340-341 and the article by Dr Robert George in Family Law Journal  Vol 38 p.1121. However, this court has on at least three occasions proceeded on the basis that an application to relax the s.13 prohibition where there is an existing order is not an application under s.8 for a specific issue order: Re B (Change of Surname)  1 FLR 791; Payne v Payne  1 FLR 1052; Re F (A Child)(International Relocation Cases)  EWCA Civ 882.
- It may seem anomalous that the statutory framework for a relocation application will differ depending upon whether there is a s.8 order in effect. In the above appeal cases, judges been enjoined to apply the welfare checklist even when it is not strictly engaged. In the present case, the difference is potentially sharper because the bar on making s.8 orders for children over 16 will only apply if the application is for a specific issue order: it does not apply if the application is considered to be made under s.13.
- How did the recorder deal with this issue? He accepted Ms Murray’s submission that he could make an order in relation to E because he could “regard any new living arrangements as being a variation of the existing shared residence order”. In doing so, he rejected M’s submission that he would be making a new order which, he accepted, would be barred by s.9(7). He found that the circumstances were not exceptional and it is common ground that he was right to do so. Without being prescriptive, I would interpret the main intention behind the proviso as being to allow an order to be made where a child has qualities that require additional protection, not to override the views of a mature child of 16 or 17.
- I have set out the arguments on this issue because they formed part of the recorder’s decision and the argument in this court. However, drawing matters together, it seems to me that whether a relocation application is regarded as being made under s.13 or s.8, the general intention of the Act (prominently seen in s.9) is to prevent the imposition of inappropriate requirements on older children.
- But I would go beyond that and find that the issue in this case is not to be determined by reference to s.9, but instead by reference to the wider principle expressed in s.1(5). In my view it is not better for the court to make an order in relation to E than to make no order. In fact, it would be positively better for the court to make no order about him. The simple fact is that E is too old to be directed by the court in a matter of this kind. Although the existing child arrangements order, buttressed by the effect of s.13 is not addressed to him, it directly affects him as the subject of the proceedings. This is not to ignore the common interests of this strong pair of brothers, but to recognise the proper limits on the court’s exercise of its powers in the case of a mature and intelligent older child who is now 17 years of age.