High Court rules that mother who left boys to play on Xboxes while she napped or used her iPad and was more like a ‘friend’ than a parent ‘significantly failed’ them.
A mother who let her sons play computer games for hours on end and was more like their “friend” than a parent has had them removed from her care.
The 41-year-old left the boys, aged 11 and 14, to their own devices for extended periods while she chatted on the telephone, used her iPad or took naps, the High Court found.
They had little concept even of regular bedtimes, were often late for school, absent or failed to do their homework.
A High Court judge ruled that the woman’s “very permissive” style of parenting was harming the boys, allowing them to grow up without proper “boundaries” and damaging their chances in life.
Judge Laura Harris ruled that the boys – who cannot be named – should live with their 43-year-old father because the mother had “significantly failed” them.
The woman, who appeared to be blinded by an “almost pathological” hatred of her former husband, had also tried to cut the boys off from their father and extended family, she said.
Family lawyers said the fact that the judge had taken the unusual step of removing the boys from their mother underlined how seriously the court considered the harm being done to the boys by their upbringing.
The judgment explains that the couple separated around the time when the second boy was born in 2002.
The mother, who is from abroad, was given residence and the father struggled to maintain contact. He told the court that she had set out to alienate them from him, something the judge said in itself could constitute a “form of emotional abuse”.
Granting the father’s application to have residency transferred, the judge singled out concerns about the mother’s parenting style.
The boys’ behaviour towards adults showed a “lack of discipline and structure”, she noted.
“I consider the mother’s parenting has been permissive, and, although the court must be tolerant of different standards of parenting, I consider the permissive parenting in this case has caused the children harm,” she said.
The father told the court that he understood that when the boys came home from school their mother would often go back to bed for the next three hours, before getting up to feed them and then leaving them alone again.
“I accept the evidence … that she does spend hours under the duvet, on the phone or using her iPad, and that the children are left to their own devices,” the judge concluded.
“It also seems to me to be likely, from what the father and [the older boy] said, that they are spending a lot of time playing on their own on their Xboxes.”
She went on: “The mother … has, in my judgment, consistently failed to meet their educational needs and therefore risks compromising in particular [the older boy’s] educational prospects.
“It is likely that [the younger boy] would be in the same situation as he grew older.
“I consider that she does have a very permissive style of parenting, and I accept the father’s evidence that she is more like a friend than a parent.
“I am satisfied that there is a failure to provide proper guidance and boundaries essential for the social and emotional development of these preadolescent and adolescent boys.
“Further, I have real concerns about her as a role model.”
She said it was likely that the mother suffered some form of depression.
The judgment catalogues how the mother tried to obstruct her ex-husband’s contact with his sons routinely accusing him of harassment, calling the police and threatening injunctions.
The judge said the father had shown “dogged” determination.
“He has, in my view, demonstrated far better insight into the needs of his teenage and pre-teenage boys, for example, around issues of guidance and boundaries, than the mother,” she said.
“Their parenting styles are very different. He is much more in favour of structure, boundaries and discipline, and I can understand why the boys might baulk at that, given what I consider to have been the very permissive atmosphere in which they have lived at home.”
Christina Blacklaws, of Cooperative Legal Services, said: “Courts take a change of residence very seriously and will usually only do so in fairly extreme circumstances.
“In this case, the judge obviously felt that the harm from changing the status quo was outweighed by the harm from the permissive parenting.
“Not setting boundaries to the extent that children become ‘beyond parental control’ is seen in law as a justification for a local authority to remove a child from a parent’s care so it is perfectly possible for a court to change where a child lives for this reason, it’s just unusual.”
Marilyn Stowe, senior partner at Stowe Family Law, said: “There were clearly very serious issues involved in this particular case; the ability of the mother to properly parent the children was a concern not only to the father but to the school and the [social worker].
“For all of the authorities to be behind the father there had to be a very serious pattern of behaviour.
“It is not easy to change residence because, as the court recognised here, the impact is likely to be short-term harm but the judge saw it as in their best interests.
But she said the crucial factor was likely to be the way the mother had sought to poison the boys’ minds against their father.
“I think this case should send out a signal to parents who believe that they are being deliberately alienated from their children,” she said.
“It is easy to take the line of least resistance. It is easier where someone is hostile and angry and perhaps it is not in your nature to be like that to just walk away and leave it and therefore time passes.
“If anything sends out a message in this case it is that you don’t let time pass, as soon as there is a breach you must act and do it carefully.
“This is a model of how a father who is concerned for his children should behave.”
Source: The Telegraph