Family judges know that children normally do best when they have direct contact with both parents. The Court of Appeal underlined that point in a case concerning five ultra-Orthodox Jewish children whose transgender father had been ostracised by the close community in which they lived.
After the father left the family home and began life as a woman, both parents agreed that the children, aged between three and 13, should remain living within the Charedi community in which they were brought up. However, purely because she was transgender, members of the community shunned the father and the children faced the same treatment if they had direct contact with her.
In those circumstances, a judge rejected the father's application for direct contact with her children. She was instead granted limited, indirect contact and the judge ordered that the children be provided with 'staged narratives', couched in appropriate terms, concerning their father's transgender status.
In upholding the father's appeal against that ruling, the Court found that, in focusing on cultural and religious concerns in respect of contact, the judge had lost sight of the principle that the welfare of children is always paramount in family cases. He had failed to explain why indirect contact and the giving of narratives were in the children's best interests whilst direct contact was not.
The judge had failed to consider a single attempt at making direct contact work and there was considerable force in the father's complaint that he had not tried hard enough. The father's contact application was remitted to a different judge for fresh consideration.