September 13, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
You be the judge. You’re faced with a father and mother in a custody fight over their daughter, M, who’s now 13 years old. The couple has been fighting in your court since the girl was 26 months old. The mother has been, from the beginning of that process, “implacably opposed to contact” between the father and his daughter. The father, by contrast, has been “an unimpeachable father” throughout that harrowing 11-year donnybrook. Read about it here (Marilyn Stowe Blog, 9/9/13).
Plus, when the father and his daughter do manage to have some time together, all goes well.
In relation to M the judge was equally plain: “the evidence is clear that whenever M has contact with father it is positive and that M does love her father.”
In short, what you’re faced with, and what you find as a matter of fact, is a good and loving father, who’s borne more than anyone should have to, a daughter who loves him and a mother who’s bent on depriving her daughter of any relationship whatsoever with her dad.
But there’s more. Six months after saying she wanted to see her father, M has now changed her mind and says she wants nothing to do with him. From that, it’s clear enough that Mom is an alienator and that M has finally knuckled under and said what her mother’s been badgering her to say all along – that she doesn’t want a relationship with her father. Almost to a certainty, she’s doing this to mollify Mom. She knows she’ll continue to spend most of her time with her mother and she’s known, probably for many years, what Mom’s goal in this fight is. So, in an effort to put an end to the war in the only way anyone can, she said what her mother wanted her to say.
What do you do if you’re the judge? Well, if you’re the actual judge in the case, you, just like M, roll over and do exactly what Mom wants. You limit Dad’s contact with M to emails and sending birthday and Christmas presents. That’s right, because the mother has waged an 11-year war against this entirely decent and loving father’s having any contact whatsoever with his daughter – behavior that’s clearly abusive of M – you reward her. You say ‘yes’ to her most fervent desire. Never mind that her obvious alienation of M over most of her life is seriously destructive to her emotionally and psychologically. Never mind that fathers supposedly have parental rights or that children have rights to a relationship with their parents.
No, none of that matters. What matter is what Mom wants and what Mom wants, Mom gets.
“The judge concluded that, at the age of 13 years, M’s wishes could not and should not be overridden. The father’s case is that the judge should not have accepted M’s recent utterances as being a true indication of her wishes and feelings, given her apparent willingness to contemplate further contact only some six months prior to the final judgment and he asserts that the court should not abdicate its responsibility to make orders that afford paramount consideration to M’s welfare when the child would plainly benefit from having a full and ordinary relationship with her father.”
The ruling is the latest stage in a parenting dispute between the parents which dates back more than a decade. The Court of Appeal judgement sets the scene:
“M’s mother ["the mother"] is now aged 48 years and her father ["the father"] is aged 60. M’s parents separated in May 2001 when M was only some 21 months old and the first application for contact was made by the father five months later in October 2001. The litigation concerning M between the parents has continued, almost without interruption, for the ensuing twelve years. Since 2006 alone there have been no fewer than eighty-two court orders. At least seven judges have been involved in the case at one stage or another and over ten CAFCASS officers have played a part, initially as report writers and, latterly, as M’s children’s guardian.”
The judge expressed sympathy for the father:
“This is “an unimpeachable father” against whom no adverse findings of fact have been made at any stage in this process and whose demeanour before this court, as it was apparently before [Judge] Goldsack, was dignified and measured despite the enormous frustration and anger that he must feel. So far as the mother is concerned [Judge] Goldsack held that he had “no doubt that ….mother has always been implacably opposed to contact” to the father and to the extended paternal family. In relation to M the judge was equally plain: “the evidence is clear that whenever M has contact with father it is positive and that M does love her father.”
Here’s a man who’s stood calmly and respectfully in court no fewer than 82 times in seven years. He’s endured more or less constant investigation by child welfare authorities. No one has a bad word to say about him except guess who. He’s been a model citizen and a powerful support to his teenage daughter. He’s hung in there for over a decade, enduring the most libellous and humiliating slights, all to maintain a relationship with his child. He’s done so because it’s the right thing to do. He’s done so because his daughter needs him.
Meanwhile, Mom has been doing the opposite. She’s levelled who knows how many false charges against him, all for the purpose of depriving her daughter of her father.
So who gets rewarded and who gets punished? If you’re the judge, you reward her and punish him. You positively reinforce lying and parental alienation and give the electric shock to the man who, against incalculable odds has always done the right thing, the honorable thing, the loving thing, the thing that’s in his daughter’s best interests.
Such are the slings and arrows endured by fathers in family courts all around the world. England, where this case is playing out, is one of the worst jurisdictions for fathers, but it’s far from unique. This man’s case could be going on anywhere. Indeed, pretty much exactly the same thing occurred in Australia just a couple of years ago. In that case the judge sheepishly admitted that the mother was a terrible person and parent, but, since her alienation had proceeded so far, he concluded there was nothing he could do but double down – i.e. allow her sole custody.
In M’s case, Judge Goldsack (really, that’s his name), and other judges have dropped the ball. They’ve done so for 11 years. They’ve allowed parental alienation to go on all that time and they, M and her father are now reaping the toxic crop they’ve sown. Having permitted the mother’s behavior to continue unpunished, it’s hard to do so now. For all those years, they’ve allowed parental alienation to go on and, apart from the damage it’s done to M (which is bad enough by itself), they’ve created a fait accompli. The girl is well and truly alienated. It’s not easy to put that genie back in the bottle.
The British Judicial College that trains judges, notoriously refuses to educate family judges in the social science of child wellbeing. That’s true despite the fact that essentially every child custody ruling those judges make requires them to decide what form of custody would mostly likely contribute to the best interests of the child. That policy of intentional ignorance essentially guarantees bad results in child custody cases. How do judges make decisions about the best interests of children without the slightest idea of what parental arrangements most ensure those interests?
And, apropos of the case in question, how does a judge who knows nothing about the concept of parental alienation, because he’s not been educated about it, know it when he sees it? M’s mother’s alienation of her has been on parade for all to see for many years now, but no one’s put a stop to it. Had some judge done so, say, 10 years ago, M and her father wouldn’t be in the mess they’re in today. Into the bargain, other parents considering alienation of their child might have been discouraged.
But that’s not what happened. My guess is that, untutored in even the rudiments of child well-being as they are, the various judges relied on their pro-mother bias to make their rulings, all of which kept M in the “care” of her abuser. It’s that same ignorance and bias that result in 90% of British fathers being denied custody and a whopping 95% of child support obligors being dads.
Such is the life of fathers in British family courts.
But, maybe this case is not yet lost. Judge Goldsack’s ruling has been reversed.
Lord Justice McFarlane went to conclude that the complex and highly lengthy case had violated the rights of both M and her father under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which governs the right to respect for “private and family life”.
“I can only conclude, as I have stated, that collectively the combined interventions of the court over this very extended period have, from a procedural perspective, failed to afford due consideration to the Art[icle] 8 rights of M and her father to a timely and effective process in circumstances where there is no overt justification for refusing contact other than the intractable and unjustified hostility of the mother.”
Of course, that “intractable and unjustified hostility by the mother” won’t change. Eleven years later, she won’t all of a sudden start playing by the rules. Judges have treated every hearing like it’s her birthday, so why should she change? She won’t, so what will Judge Goldsack do now? Likely he’ll toss a few days a month of access the dad’s way and figure he’s done his job. And, in a few weeks he’ll be faced with an irate Mom telling him once again that Dad is an ogre with whom M wants nothing to do.
It’ll go on and on, probably for another five years, until M can legally get out from under her mother’s tyranny. Her abuse of M will go on with the imprimatur of the judge, papered over by some minimal access order – just enough to satisfy the appellate court.
Or of course Goldsack could do what he or another judge should have done years ago – transfer custody to the girl’s father and sharply restrict Mom’s visitation. After all, he’s the “unimpeachable father” and she’s the mother with the “intractable and unjustified hostility.”
I guess we’ll see what happens, but in the meantime, you be the judge.
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