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June 11, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

A child abduction case is ongoing in England. Read about it here (Daily Mail, 6/10/15). Several aspects of the case are remarkable. First is how the secrecy of British family court proceedings abetted the mother’s abduction of the child; second is how those courts ignored classic signs of parental alienation until it was too late; and third is how seriously they’re taking the case now.

For a detailed chronology of the case, go to the bottom of the Daily Mail article linked to above. In brief, Roger Williams and Rebecca Minnock had a son, Ethan in January of 2012. Thirteen months later, they split up without ever marrying and Williams applied to the court for parenting time with his son. For reasons unknown, it took six months for the court to rule on his request. In August 2013, it ordered that he have contact with Ethan, but only with Minnock present.

By October, that arrangement had “broken down,” and Minnock began making allegations against Williams. The first was that he used illegal drugs and later she claimed him to be “controlling” and that he engaged in “inappropriate behavior,” whatever that meant. Two hearings concluded that Minnock’s claims were unfounded and a third that her allegations were “fabricated” in order to “frustrate contact” by Williams.

In other words, Minnock had embarked on a campaign of parental alienation against Williams. Having up to then had almost exclusive parenting time, under the usual court orders, Minnock was reduced to seeing her son only three nights per week, while Williams had him the other four. That order was based primarily on the conclusions of a court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Mark Berelowitz and a social worker who agreed with those conclusions. They both said that each parent had a warm and loving relationship with Ethan, but that the child was not “emotionally safe” with his mother and cited evidence that Minnock had apparently continued her efforts to alienate him from his father.

On May 27, 2015, the court held another hearing on yet more allegations by Minnock, but ominously, she didn’t appear in court. The judge found that Minnock had violated previous court orders and that she was emotionally damaging her son. Accordingly, the judge changed primary custody from Minnock to Williams with Minnock having only supervised visitation.

The next day, she and Ethan vanished. Minnock’s brother, Marvin Shaw posted on his Facebook page that he knew where his sister and the child were, but, when he was hauled into court to give that information, he claimed he’d made the whole thing up. Other family members were brought to court, but they all denied any knowledge of Rebecca’s whereabouts.

The judge isn’t buying it. Having heard their testimony, Judge Stephen Wildblood said he has “deep suspicions” that they’re withholding evidence and as much as promised that they would be charged with perjury if it were determined that they’d done so. About that, I suspect we’ll soon see.

Now that the pair are gone, the court is pulling out all the stops to find Minnock and the child. The police have been involved and, most tellingly, Judge Wildblood has issued an order removing the usual prohibition on press reporting on the case. The court is in fact urgently requesting the help of journalists in locating the two.

Police appealed for help to find mother and son two weeks ago but could not reveal the circumstances behind their disappearance from their home in Highbridge, Somerset, because of the reporting restrictions in such cases.

A police spokesman said: 'Concern is growing for her welfare and whereabouts, and that of her three-year-old son Ethan.'

But in an unusual step the judge has now revealed the full facts to help find Ethan and reunite him with his father, from nearby Burnham-on-Sea.

Judge Wildblood said: 'Any assistance by the Press in finding out where he is will be gratefully received. It is really important that we work together — the court and the Press — to find where this child is.'

The judge sounds altogether serious about finding the two, as do the police. Interestingly, Minnock and Ethan have now been missing for two weeks. It seems altogether clear that, had the police been able to adequately report the situation to the public, the pair might well have been located by now. But the prohibition against publicizing aspects of child custody cases in the U.K. made that impossible.

Police appealed for help to find mother and son two weeks ago but could not reveal the circumstances behind their disappearance from their home in Highbridge, Somerset, because of the reporting restrictions in such cases.

Of course everyone hopes Ethan is well despite having been cut off from his father, his extended family, his friends, neighbors, etc. Should he not be however, the secrecy in which family courts in the U.K. are shrouded must be called one of the culprits. When people go missing, time is always of the essence in finding them. And the time it took the court to issue its order lifting the prohibition against publicizing details of the case hamstrung police in their efforts. Were the laws more amenable to public information about family court cases, my guess is that Minnock would have been found days ago.

Meanwhile, her abuse of her son continues. And that’s another thing the court’s waste of time encouraged. This case has been pending for about 2 ½ years now. During that time, Minnock persistently tried to oust Williams from his son’s life. She did that via a series of allegations specifically found by the court not only to be false, but also to have as their purpose the marginalization or outright removal of his father from Ethan’s life.

To put it mildly, the court should have figured out, long before it was too late, what Minnock was up to and put a stop to it via a change of custody and restrictions on her contact with the child. Now, I’ve always argued for shared parenting and I argue for it here too. But for whatever time it took, the court should have ordered Williams to be the primary parent and given Minnock only supervised visitation. That’s because she’d proven herself to be an alienator.

She should have been relegated to strictly supervised visitation only and required to attend parenting classes designed to show her how wrong parental alienation is and how necessary it is for children to have meaningful relationships with both parents. Assuming she took those messages to heart, she could have had gradually increased time with Ethan up to approximate equality with Williams. Failure to absorb the messages would have meant that she remained the boy’s secondary parent. The fact is that, in some cases, equal parenting isn’t possible.

My guess is that Minnock will be located soon enough. We’ll see what happens then.

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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:

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#parentalalienation, #sharedcustody, #parentalchildabduction

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