For the Sake of the Kids

I have now watched the first episode of the new BBC series Who Needs Fathers? Entitled For the Sake of the Kids, the programme follows two couples as they try to resolve arrangements for their children following separation, in contrasting ways. Alex and Juliet have been to court many times, whereas Chris and Angela are determined to manage their separation without going to court.

Alex tells us that since his relationship broke down in 2005 he has spent tens of thousands of pounds in legal expenses and at the end of the programme he shows us 13 out of 15 large lever-arch files with the resulting paperwork, although he laments that "my position after all that is no different". This is confirmed by Juliet, who says that Alex has taken her to court every 2 to 3 months for the last 3 years, but "he's still not won anything". She suggests that the court should make an order requiring each party to "just get on with your life".

The most dramatic events in Alex and Juliet's story occur when Alex tries to take his four sons on holiday. He has a contact order stating that he can take them on holiday for a week "or thereabouts", but his plans involve him having them for nine days. Unsurprisingly, Juliet refuses, complaining also that Alex doesn't tell her where he intends to take the children. The wise counsel of a family friend, a retired family court magistrate, persuades Alex to reduce the time he wants the boys to one week, but to no avail: Juliet refuses. Alex contacts the police. They do eventually speak to Juliet, but can't force her to agree, and tell Alex it is a matter for the court. Alex goes back to Juliet the next morning (tellingly she can't recall this), but she still refuses. At this point, Alex almost gives up, but instead he makes an urgent application to the court, goes before the judge immediately, obtains the order he sought and went on holiday. "It worked", he said.

The story with Chris and Angela is very different. They have agreed to divide the children's time more or less equally between them. Angela tells us that she had a West Indian upbringing, where family is "incredibly important", but she admits that many mothers behave badly (although they will be answerable to the children when then get older).

However, things are not all sweetness and light even with Chris and Angela. Angela is most unhappy when Chris ignores her request to have the children contact her when he takes them on holiday. She says that they were "building up civility for nothing" and that Chris was "trying to sabotage it all". However, the real stresses upon their relationship stem from financial worries, in particular the cost of running two separate households. Chris wants to move to a house he owns in east London, near to his family, but that would mean that the children spend much less time with him. He suggests to Angela that she also moves to east London, but she doesn't want to disrupt the children, particularly by making them move schools. She says that "their world is quite solid and we want to keep it that way".

Impressively, at one point we see Chris and Angela trying to resolve their problems in a round-table discussion. They appear quite civil towards one another, although the meeting breaks up after they agree that they are just "going round in circles".

I think this programme was reasonably worthwhile, particularly contrasting the different approaches of the two sets of parents, although the story of Alex and Juliet will read like a well-thumbed book to any experienced family lawyer (incidentally, we are told at the end that after another 13 months in court, Alex and Juliet reached an agreement, whereby the children spend more than one-third of their time with their father). Unexpectedly, there is no indication that Alex blamed his frustrations on the system, putting the blame fairly and squarely on Juliet's shoulders; indeed, at one point he exclaims that the system works. Chris, on the other hand, could not see that he would have achieved anything more through the courts, and I'm sure he was right.


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