Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Devil's Advocate

The Sunday Times ran an interesting story this week. It told of a mother who has been denied all contact with her children by the court, after she was found to be turning them against their father. Marilyn Stowe posted about the case yesterday and raised serious concerns about whether the court should have taken such draconian action.

I do not necessarily disagree with Marilyn's comments, but I thought I would have a go at playing devil's advocate. As Marilyn quite rightly says, we do not know the full facts of this case. However, we can (I hope) be sure that the mother's behaviour must have been pretty serious for the court to have taken the action that it did. Let us say, for example, that she did consistently prompt the children to make serious false allegations against the father. Let us say that these included false allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Let us say that despite repeated warnings by the court, she persisted in this behaviour and that as a result the children have suffered serious emotional harm, which will only be made worse by further contact their mother. How, then, is the court to deal with her?

And a couple of other matters. Firstly, the Sunday Times makes a point of telling us that the mother was "the former wife of a rich City financier", as if this makes it an even more appalling decision by the court - after all, ex-wives of rich city financiers do not behave like that, do they? Yes, they do. As with domestic violence, bad behaviour in an acrimonious divorce can be found at all levels of society.

Secondly, and this is just a thought, would this case have made the news if it was the father who was being denied contact with his children?


  1. I thought Marilyn's article raised a number of very valid points about 'difficult' parents but in relation to the specific case got off on the wrong foot by suggesting that the mother in question was being punished for 'loving her children too much' - the Times article (which is the only information I have on the case) specifically quotes the Judge as saying that the childnre were suffering "serious emotional harm" it also mentions supervised contact which implies that the harm was continuing even when the cotnact was supervised, which begs the question, what other options were left to the Judge?

    Had the harm the motehr was causing the children to suffer been physical rather than emotional would there be the same critisism, I wonder?

  2. Yes, good point about physical/emotional harm - it is easy to think that one is worse than the other.

  3. What other options were left to the Judge?

    Send the mother for some counselling and therapy to get over herself. Maybe that would have prevented what must surely have been a distressing situation for the children, let alone the parents.


  4. Yes. One presumes that all other avenues were explored by the court.

  5. John you have made some very interesting comments as always!
    I asked Pro-Contact,a tremendous organisation doing excellent work with broken families, if they would kindly comment on my post, which they have, and it is now up on my blog- www.marilynstowe.co.uk What Salli has to say is informed, objective and well worth a read on a subject that causes so much misery in our field of work.

  6. Thanks, Marilyn. I agree, well worth a read.

  7. On a slightly separate note, I'd be interested to know whether the two articles published by the times on this case have been sanctioned by the court for publication, because prima facie they seem cut right through the restriction on publication of information in children cases contained in s12 Administration of Justice Act 1960. Whether sanctioned or not what has been reported reads very much to me like it may be a highly selective summary of the case.

  8. Interesting point on s.12, which I had not considered. Yes, it does appear to be a very selective summary of the case, which is why I decided to play 'devil's advocate'.

  9. Hello John,
    Divorce Saloon here. Had a case a couple of years back here in New York where mother made allegations of sexual abuse by father which could not be substantiated. Court took custody away from her and gave it to father. I disagreed with the court's actions because I felt that the simple fact that her allegations could not be proven does not make it false. If made in good faith based on statements from the children, I think the mother should have been excused. The court obviously felt she was the one telling the kids to say this...since then, I believe there is a new law in the works called Bridget's Law that would give some immunity to a mother in this scenario who complains about abuse but is unable to substantiate it.
    In the case of the mother mentioned above, she got joint custdoy with the father after a trial, and of course was admonished that if she ever made these allegations again without substantiation, it could spell big trouble for her. Haven't read Marilyn's article yet. But I believe the even where emotional harm is being alleged, there may be other ways to handle the problem than banning a parent from the life of the child. I am willing to bet the children are equally affected by this maternal ban. At the end of the day, children need both parents in their lives. So I think the courts should always err on the side of providing the scaffolding needed to make that happen rather than banning parents from their kids.
    --Divorce Saloon

  10. Divorce Saloon, that's interesting - do you know whether the childnre were moved to father's care because mum did not accept the court's findings that Dad was not abusive? I can see that moving the childnre may well have ben in their interests if there was reason to belive that Mum would not support/permit contact with Dad if they remained with her.

    In realtion to the 'Bridget's Law' you mention, do you have any more information? I'm curious as to whats afeguards there would be to prevent people from mis-using such a law to make false allegations in order to disrupt or prevent contact.

    I agree absolutely that stopping contact should be an absolute last resort - sadly, i do think that there are a small number of cases where it is appropaite, once all other avenues have ben explored.

  11. Divorce Saloon & Marjorie: I agree that stopping all contact with a parent must be an absolute last resort, after all other avenues have been explored.


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