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December 18, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Read this article (Daily Mail, 12/16/13). Then I want someone – anyone – to dare tell me that courts act in the best interests of children, that there’s no pro-mother/anti-father bias in family courts. Go ahead; I dare you.

John (all names are pseudonyms) met Elizabeth back in the 1990s and they had a daughter, Margaret, together in 1999. John was overjoyed at the news his partner was pregnant. He was there at the birth, camera at the ready, photographing his daughter’s first seconds in the world. He’s always been a fit, loving, even enthusiastic father whose character one appellate court judge described as “unimpeachable.”

But early in Margaret’s life, Elizabeth began showing signs of serious mental illness.

She has been diagnosed with a personality disorder, paranoid traits and depression. Her precarious psychological health is not helped when she abuses alcohol or illicit drugs.

Not only that, but Elizabeth began a campaign of maternal gatekeeping that drove John out of Margaret’s life and eventually provoked a split between the two.

‘[A]s if a switch had been flicked’ he says. Elizabeth began to undermine and marginalise him.

‘When I worked late she told friends I was drinking with work colleagues,’ he remembers. ‘She started to exclude me from Margaret’s life. She deliberately excluded me from Margaret’s bedtime routine.

‘She only did the shopping for Margaret and herself. She’d sit on her own drinking wine in the kitchen after putting Margaret to bed and there was absolutely no physical intimacy. I was frozen out.’

Elizabeth and their daughter spent more and more time with her parents who lived nearby.

Her systematic campaign to obliterate the baby from John’s life escalated. ‘I was excluded from Margaret’s first birthday celebrations which were held at Elizabeth’s parents’ house. Photos I’d taken of Margaret went missing.’

Elizabeth’s behaviour became untenable and in May 2001, when Margaret was 18 months old, the couple split up. Elizabeth and Margaret went to live with her parents and the marathon of litigation began.

It’s been going on ever since. And, during all that time, with just two exceptions, John has had essentially no contact with Margaret. He’s attended some 100 court hearings, gotten 82 orders for access to his daughter and spent over £100,000 in a vain attempt to be a father to his daughter. Elizabeth simply ignores those orders and the courts, rather than punishing her contempt, only issue more orders which she again ignores.

But Elizabeth didn’t stop at mere contempt of court. No, she twice levelled false allegations of child abuse against John. Both resulted in the court’s ordering him to stay away from Margaret, both were investigated and determined to be unfounded.

So the family court has known to a certainty that Elizabeth has no intention of obeying orders for access, doesn’t hesitate to lie in order to separate John from Margaret and is herself a bad mother and a danger to others, particularly John.

‘This meant I was unable to take Margaret to see her grandmother or extended family in the Midlands. Elizabeth was controlling everything about Margaret and my life.

‘She was disruptive, unpleasant and radiated such an atmosphere, such a negative charisma, that she could transform joy into unpleasantness. She created conflict wherever she went.’…

By 2007, more court hearings had come and gone; more orders had been ignored. Then it became evident that Elizabeth was mentally ill and on the verge of another breakdown.

‘She came to my house drunk and clearly unwell. She had a knife with a five-and-a-half inch blade in her handbag. She had been overheard saying, “I’m going to kill the b*******”.’

John called the police. Elizabeth was found guilty of harassing him and a court ordered she should not go near him or his home.

She was sent to a psychiatric unit and during her incarceration there — for several months in 2007 — Margaret lived with her father.

That was the second time John and Margaret managed to be together. Elizabeth, having been committed to a mental institution, couldn’t very well prevent it, and the father/daughter relationship blossomed.

‘At first she was distressed and had terrible paddies, as you’d expect,’ he recalls. ‘But she settled and it was wonderful. We went to the Midlands to see her cousins; we stayed with my mother. We both had a lovely time.’

When Elizabeth was discharged from the psychiatric hospital, John wanted Margaret to remain living permanently with him.

Astoundingly — and despite the fact that most right-thinking people would consider Elizabeth an unsafe parent — his request was turned down by the Family Court.

‘I remember thinking, “If you send Margaret back to live with her mother now I will never have a proper relationship with her again.” And it was prophetic,’ he says.

The first time John had primary childcare duties was when Elizabeth met a man and started a relationship with him. Then she was all-too-willing for John to have custody of his daughter.

The court orders accrued. Elizabeth continued to ignore them until, in March 2003, there was a sudden and complete volte-face. Elizabeth began a new relationship. Her attitude to John’s contact changed completely.

‘I was frequently asked to look after Margaret at very short notice,’ he remembers. ‘She’d ring me and say, “I need you to pick Margaret up from nursery school in ten minutes,” and I’d have to drop everything and go.

‘It was wonderful to be involved with Margaret’s life again: I’d take her home, feed her, bathe her, read to her and put her to bed; the more I saw her, the stronger our relationship became.

‘But as far as Elizabeth was concerned, Margaret had become a burden, an impediment to her relationship. The pretence that she cared for her welfare was false. And it proved to me that Elizabeth knew there was nothing wrong with my capacity to care for my daughter.’

For five months Margaret stayed regularly with her father. Then Elizabeth’s relationship ended and all the old problems resurfaced.

That’s the mother the family court rewarded with custody. She’s been determined to take John out of Margaret’s life since the child’s earliest days. She’s lied to the court, threatened John’s life, been incarcerated, had a restraining order issued against her and been diagnosed with severe mental disabilities.

And what of John? He’s not only an “unimpeachable” father, he’s an unimpeachable litigant too. As much as Elizabeth has done everything in her power to demonstrate her legal and factual contempt for the family court, John has invariably toed the line. He doesn’t raise his voice or demonstrate his anger or frustration in any way.

John is an exemplary father; in fact an Appeal Court judge has called him ‘unimpeachable’.

Faced with events that would provoke anger and frustration in the most equable of men, he has, says the judge, remained ‘dignified and measured’.

Predictably, given the court’s complete refusal to punish her behavior in any way, Elizabeth has now embarked on campaign of parental alienation. That too has been rewarded by the court.

‘She has deliberately made me out to be an unworthy father, creating the false impression that I am dangerous; in effect she has forced Margaret to choose between us, and because I am not with her, she believes what Elizabeth says,’ he says.

‘Yet I have never said anything derogatory to Margaret about her mother. I have a clear conscience on that. And because I haven’t played the same game as Elizabeth I’ve got nowhere.’

The upshot of Elizabeth’s concerted campaign of vilification against John is predictable: Margaret has begun to believe her mother’s malign publicity.

She has told a court she does not want to see her father, and in February 2012, one of the many judges who have presided over the 100 hearings between Elizabeth and John finally capitulated and cut him out of his daughter’s life.

John has appealed that order, and apparently the higher court reversed the lower one, but that just means the whole sorry affair will continue. Will John ever see his daughter again? I doubt it. After all, he’s nothing more than a fine father who’s done everything right, both in court and out. And, faced with a mentally unstable mother who’s possibly dangerous to John, who violates court orders, drinks, does illicit drugs, commits perjury, etc., why would anyone expect him to have custody?

British family courts are a disgrace.

Listen to how this all affects John, and when you do, remember that he is the very soul of restraint and mild manners.

‘It’s like a bereavement,’ he says. ‘I need to see her. I need to break this impasse. The delays have been interminable.

‘My anguish never stops. I wake up every morning with a knot of anxiety in my stomach.

‘I don’t know where my daughter is. I don’t know how she is. I don’t even know if she is with her mother.

‘I feel both useless and helpless. You also wonder what people are thinking about you; whether you are somehow diminished in their eyes because they see you as an unfit father.

‘We’re put on this earth to have children, and the strongest emotion a parent ever feels is love for their child. Yet I have been denied the right to exercise this love for no good reason.

‘It is such a deep and wounding hurt that you can never get over it. It permeates every facet of my life.

‘Every Christmas is a marker of how life moves on. It is not a video. You can’t replay it. The time not spent with your child can never be reclaimed. You’ve lost it for ever.

‘I yearn to be part of my daughter’s life. I’ve cried and cried over this. I have broken my heart in sorrow, frustration and anger. But I will never give up. Why should a mother be allowed to alienate a daughter from her father?

‘It destroys a child. Yet there are thousands of children all over the country who are suffering as Margaret is because they are denied relationships with their fathers.’

When fathers lose custody of their children, as John has, their risk of suicide spikes. It is many times higher than that of other men. Reading John’s words, you can see why. Here is a man whose sole wish is to be a parent to his child. He’s a good father and a good person. His daughter needs him, but all of that is transmuted by the mad alchemy of family courts into 12 years of pain, suffering and loss. As the article makes clear, the casual person on the street can see who the fit parent is and who is the destructive one. Margaret’s best interests have always consisted of having her father as her primary caregiver and her mother as a supervised visitor.

As the article says, it doesn’t require “the wisdom of Solomon” to figure out what should have been done years ago. Everyone can see it but the people whose job it is to understand what’s best for kids and make orders accordingly. Those people don’t rule in children’s best interests; they rule with their anti-father/pro-mother bias. We see it time and again. It’s nowhere more obvious than here.

National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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