Archive for May, 2012

Summer Time Blues

Summer is the longest school holiday of the year and parents who hitherto have been ‘short-changed’ in the child contact department feel, that now is their opportunity to spend real, quality, uninterrupted time with their child.  Now, due to the length of the holiday, they can even manage a two week break to take them away.  Is this wonderful?  Not to the parent, seething with resentment that a holiday with the ex, might mean forfeiting their own plans for a holiday with their child.  What often happens is, that despite the fact that the summer is about 6 weeks in length, both parents decide that they want to take their child on holiday over the same period of time.  Not possible.  Who should take precedence then?  The argument goes, that tickets have already been bought, or that the grandparents are only available to be on holiday with the child during that particular time, or the step or half brothers and sisters are only available (on release from their resident parent) during that two weeks and how nice would it be if your child could be on holiday at the same time as them.  The argument on the other side goes that the child’s godmother has invited him and you away and that is the only time that she has that particular flat that you can all stay in, or a whole bunch of friends have rented a villa and they are all going with their children, so you can’t go without yours.  It is the judgement of Solomon to make these decisions in the absence of agreement.  Whichever parent succeeds the other parent fails.  One is bound to be unhappy.  In the last resort, it may be necessary to go to Court. Judgements are based on what happened last summer, whose plans are the most immoveable, what would be best for the child.  

Do other factors come into play when ex couples polarise themselves and pitch into battle?  Is it that it is hard to be on your own for two weeks without your children when you are the main carer and with them most of the time.  Is it that, feeling on the edge of things as the non-resident parent, it is the time to redress the balance and equalise the scales in your favour.   Both these things are true and both bring with them, problems because it is the children who are caught in the middle.  The summer reminds us of times when we were together as a family, making plans all under one roof and singing from the same hymn sheet.  The summer post separation can feel more like an argument waiting to happen and it can feel like loss and unfamiliarity.  It’s not easy to find a suitable holiday venue alone with your children that you feel comfortable with so invitations from friends or family have to be taken advantage of even if the dates don’t suit everyone.  Summer time and the living is easy? Not always.


Do We Value Fathers in our Society?

I was interested to read that there are now plans to introduce legislation to promote a child’s ongoing relationship with both parents.  We all know that what that really means is legislation to register that the father’s relationship is just as important as the mother’s relationship with their children.  Not so long ago, there was a
huge furore, rightly so, by father’s rights groups because the Family Justice Review didn’t think spelling it out was necessary.  They stressed contact with both parents was a given, so there was no need to say anything specific about it.  My experience both when I was a family lawyer and now as a therapist is that it is so much harder for a father to maintain a close or sometimes any relationship with his children after divorce or separation.  My experience is that if a mother alienates her children against the father or subverts contact, then the court really can do and does do very little about it.  It is all very well, bringing a mother back to court for breaching a contact order, but if the only sanction is to have a Judge say that you must allow your child to have contact, then the situation will continue.  Sometimes, very rarely,the court removes the children and places them with the father.  That is because the Court will say that it is emotionally abusive to make your children not want to go for contact.  However, if you balance, that emotional abuse against taking children away from their mother where apart from no contact,they are settled and happy, then 9 times out of 10, the court will decide its best to leave them where they are. There are many fathers up and down the country who would dearly love to see their children and have a full and meaningful relationship with them.  There are many children up and down the country who don’t see their father because of how their parent’s separation has been handled, normally by the resident parent.  Those children will grow up feeling that their father has abandoned them or that their father is not a sufficiently good person for them to have a relationship with him.  Given that every child is made up of half of each of his parents, thinking that your father is ‘bad’ is not a great way to foster self-esteem or encourage healthy adult relationships in later life.  If we can’t stop mothers alienating children or being implacably hostile to their ex-partner in front of the children, then at least we can provide some sanction which will release the children from that bind and enable them to have a good enough relationship with their father.  Will legislation that simply promotes an ongoing relationship with both parents achieve that?  I think not.  Will it make any difference to what has been going on and silently sanctioned by our Courts for years?  Again,I think not.

Sadly, for all those fathers who suffer so much by being marginalized in their children’s lives, this legislation when it comes, will be too little, too ineffective and just another
example of  wasted rhetoric.  If the Government  means business and truly believes that our society, present and future would be better if children had a good, loving
unfettered relationship with both parents, then legislation needs to be
introduced which reflects that.  The evidence is there, it needs to be acted on.

Do we live in cloud cuckoo land?

Let’s get this in perspective.  An article in the Daily Mail today   quotes Sir Paul Coleridge’s view that the more we spend on weddings, the greater the family breakdown.  I simply don’t agree.  He and the writer of the article in the Daily
Mail, talk of marriage as being some sort of fairy tale perpetuated by pictures
in Hallo magazine and because that is so unrealistic, people leave their marriages when they realise the reality is very different.  I spoke about this on Channel 4 news,
debating with a spokesperson from the Marriage Foundation.  The British Public is not stupid and know very well that relationships are hard and are long term investments.  They after all, have seen their parent’s marriages and had their own long term relationships.  They know that the pictures in Hallo and other glossy magazines are a fantasy and entertainment.  No-one thinks that marriage is easy because
Jordan arrives at her wedding with a horse and carriage or because people who
can afford it hire castles and lakes for their reception.  No-one leaves their marriage easily without many years of heartache and soul searching. 
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, such as the woman
interviewed in the article today. Her husband walked out leaving just a note
after 8 months, saying he had had enough. We have no idea what was going on in his mind or his history of commitment or mental health issues.  We
can’t jump from such an example to Sir Paul Coleridge’s view that people give
us too easily and don’t make the proper investment.  Most people do invest properly and go in for the long term, through thick and think. Only when things have not worked out and people have not been heard and couple therapy has not worked, after many
years of trying do people take the tortuous decision to leave.  Everyone knows divorce is bereavement, so people don’t jump into that pond without much thought and anguish.  Give all those who divorce some credit for understanding something about themselves and about the big bad world around them.