Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pause for Thought

This sad letter in the Guardian today reminded me of one of my cases that finished recently. I was acting for the mother in a long-running residence/contact dispute. The father, probably seeing that his residence application was likely to be unsuccessful, informed the CAFCASS officer that if he did not get sole residence then he would stop all direct contact with the children (a shared time arrangement was out of the question because of the distance between the parties). When the matter went before the court it became clear that the mother would get sole residence and the father unfortunately carried out his threat, despite the best efforts of the judge to persuade him otherwise.

My client was left with mixed feelings. Naturally, she was pleased that she had been given sole residence, and relieved that the matter was over (the court made a s.91(14) order preventing the father from making any further applications without leave), but she also had to explain to the children that they would not be seeing their father. How this will affect the children remains to be seen, but clearly the court did not agree with the father that it would be best for them if there were no further direct contact. Whether the father himself genuinely believed this, or whether he did what he did as a last-ditch attempt to persuade the court to grant him sole residence (and didn't want to lose face by changing his mind in court), only he knows.

As fathers' rights groups quite rightly remind us, fathers often lose contact with their children through no fault of their own, but the other side of the coin is those fathers who choose to stop contact, or who never attempt to have contact in the first place (I quite often have to advise mothers that the court cannot force the father to have contact). I hope that those fathers read the letter in the Guardian, and that it gives them pause for thought.

[Update: Dianne Benussi has written a post giving advice on what to do if your ex doesn't want to see the children.]

6 comments:

  1. If I were to write a letter today describing the circumstances of my ostracisation from my six-year-old daughter's life -- how I endured two years with her personality-disordered (and, on occasion, violent) mother, followed by five years' struggle to share in her upbringing and, finally, simply to maintain 'contact' after her mother moved away to the other side of the country; how I lost my business fighting to be her parent, and was reduced to scratching a living at the fag-end of the economy; how lawyers, judges and CAFCASS workers colluded in this exclusion for no other identifiable reason than that I was male; and how, crushed by debt, depression, the stress of week-to-week material survival, and the taunts and abuse I was subjected to when I collected and returned her, I eventually lost 'contact' with my daughter -- do you think The Guardian would publish it?

    And in the unlikely event that The Guardian were to publish this letter, John, would you draw attention to it here in your blog? Would it give you 'pause for thought'?

    Or is it, rather, that you prefer to focus on 'the other side of the coin' -- that which casts fathers in a bad light and, apparently, undermines the grievances held by people like me against a system represented by people like you? You are erecting a straw man here -- the inevitable resort of one who is unable to provide a direct response to the issues raised by 'fathers' rights groups'.

    Pretty shabby stuff, really.

    P.S. As an aside (because it has no material bearing): in the individual case you cite, in which you represented the mother, I wonder what circumstances drove the father to this grim ultimatum? How long had the parents been in dispute, and how had the distance between the parental homes arisen? And if they had lived in close proximity, would your client have opposed shared residence?

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  2. Thank you for your comment. My post was not intended to show all fathers in a bad light, or as any sort of response to issues raised by fathers' rights groups, but merely to show that some fathers choose not to have contact with their children. I'm not sure why this should undermine anyone's genuine grievances against the system.

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  3. John,

    You’re right – they are two sides of the same coin, but the point is that irrespective of whether it is the mother who chooses to stop the father’s contact, or the father who chooses not to fulfil his responsibility, it’s not in the best interests of the child for the father not have a paternal role in their life.
    Having said this, your own case was a long-running dispute. I have been involved in a long-running dispute for some 4 years now – to the extent that I now have a season ticket for my local family court, where they all know me by name. I have myself wondered if it is better for my children for me to bow out of their lives because of the effect on them of the animosity between their mother and me. I have always come to the conclusion that it is better for me to fight for increased contact, but even now I have my doubts that this is what is best for them – and perhaps the father in your case felt the same.
    In your own case, you say that a shared time arrangement was out of the question because of the distance between the parties. Why (given the distance involved in the appeal case re F (Children) before Thorpe LJ and Wilson LJ 2003?)

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  4. I agree with you entirely that it is not usually in the best interests of the child for the father not have a paternal role in their life. As I indicated in my post, the father in my case may have genuinely felt that his decision was in the best interests of the children - but the court clearly disagreed.

    I used the term 'shared time arrangement' rather than 'shared residence', as distance does not, of course, preclude there being a shared residence order, as the case to which you refer confirms. I was referring to an arrangement where the children spend substantially half of their time with each parent, and distance makes this impractical.

    I like the season ticket to the court idea - I'll have to suggest that to some of my clients!

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  5. John,

    I'm still puzzled about the shared time arrangment - in the case I quoted provision was made for time to be shared if one parent was in Hampshire and the other in Edinburgh.

    I find it very difficult to accept that the father in your case would stick to his guns simply to avoid losing face. If it were a long-running case, it would not have been a spur-of-the-moment decision on his part - he would have made his mind up about this well before the hearing. It must have been a very difficult decision for him to have come to in the first place, and although the court may well have been right I suspect he was probably extremely frustrated with the whole process. This does happen - in my own case I have recently had mid-week contact reduced by magistrates because of problems of handover, and if we took that to its logical conclusion my children would never see me; on another occasion I applied for a number of orders, including one to define contact over the Christmas holiday, and at the Directions hearing in November a date was set in February to consider the matters!
    I kid you not.

    Season-ticket holder

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  6. It depends what you mean by 'shared time arrangement'. In the case you quoted the arrangement envisaged the children spending term time with their mother and much of their holidays with their father, which meant they would spend most of their time with their mother. As usual, there are no 'hard and fast' rules, but distance is usually a practical factor preventing time being shared equally.

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