Boy 'divorces' mother without her knowledge

A WOMAN whose 16-year-old son won the right to 'divorce' her was not told that the court hearing was going ahead and did not have the chance to represent herself.

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was allowed to live with his paternal grandparents after Nottingham Crown Court was told he had endured persistent emotional hardship at the hands of his natural mother.

The case had been delayed and the court agreed to proceed at the first available opportunity because of the boy's anxiety. The mother was informed of the judgment two days later, on 18 December, but it was not made public until yesterday to ensure that she had received the court statement.

Mary Jolly, a legal executive at Hopkin and Sons, a legal firm in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, which represented the boy, said yesterday that the mother 'knew that something was about to happen. It was felt that it was not in the boy's interest to let the case drag on'.

The time limit for an appeal against the judgment, which was given under the Children Act of 1989, has now run out. The mother can only appeal for a variation, but not a cancellation, of the order which bars her from speaking to, or visiting, her son. 'It is a very sad story,' said Mrs Jolly. 'It's a complete breakdown of the relationship between a mother and her son.'

It was the child welfare officer at the boy's school who first expressed concern. He was withdrawn and not performing well in class. In October 1991, the officer contacted his grandparents to ask if they would look after him. They agreed but the boy, fearful of his mother's reaction, refused. In May, however, he changed his mind. His mother then tried to enforce her right to custody and sent police to the grandparent's house to force him to return. He refused. She started to wait outside his school and finally tried to bundle him into the back of a car. 'The boy needed this order for his peace of mind,' Mrs Jolly said.

His mother and father were divorced when the boy was two. She then had three children by her second marriage. The boy, a shy and nervous teenager, was routinely excluded from family life. He was made to eat upstairs or on the stairs while the rest of his family ate together.

'He was not abused physically or sexually but he is a shy boy, not a high achiever and completely dominated by his mother,' Mrs Jolly said.

'The mother was very restrictive over his contact with the natural father and he was only allowed to see his paternal grandparents on and off.'

Mrs Jolly said the exclusion of his mother from the hearing was reasonable given the likely outcome of the case. It seems unlikely that the mother will apply for a variation to the order. 'What is the point?' asked Mrs Jolly. 'She would have the son saying in court: 'I never want anything to do with you.' The courts now take note of what the child wants.'

Mrs Jolly said the boy was settling down at school and that increased involvement from his father was helping him. 'He is relieved he has the protection of the court order, although he is not sure of his mother's reaction, so he is a little apprehensive.'