April 21, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
What to make of this (Daily Mail, 4/19/17)? I’m tempted to blame the family courts for Sheila Griffin’s suicide because, after all, many of the markers of family court failure seem to be raised by the article. Or are they?
What the article’s writer wants us to believe is that Griffin, who had primary custody of her children, was falsely accused of some form of sexual impropriety with a child and, because of that, had custody transferred to her ex, Chris. Although she was acquitted of the criminal charge, Chris obstructed her contact with the children and, without that, she took her own life. The suggestion is that Chris stood between Griffin and her access to her children and, presumably, the family court failed to enforce her right to contact.
If that’s all true, I say family courts are well known for ignoring access orders, particularly when they benefit fathers, and doing so is an inexcusable failure. Irrespective of who has primary custody, courts must enforce the rights of the non-custodial parent. Failure to do so is detrimental to the child and to the parent. It may be that it was too great a blow for Sheila Griffin to bear and now her children have no mother.
But is the narrative suggested by the article the real one? In the first place, there’s no evidence in the article that it was Chris who levelled the allegations of child sexual abuse against Griffin. I’d think that if he’d been the one, the article would say so, but it doesn’t.
So who did, and why? Tellingly, the article answers neither question. More tellingly still, it makes no mention of the evidence against Griffin. Yes, she was acquitted, but acquittal can mean many different things depending on the facts of the case. Did an overly sensitive parent conclude that she abused his/her child while babysitting based on remarks the child made? Or was she accused by a boy of statutory rape, but the boy died before trial, leaving the Crown with no evidence it could offer and therefore requiring an acquittal?
Interestingly, the article calls the allegations “false,” but the only evidence of falsity is her acquittal. No prosecutor and no criminal defense attorney believes that every acquittal is a case of actual innocence. Only Daily Mail writer Paddy Dinham thinks that.
Interesting too is the fact that Griffin apparently never spoke about the facts of the case or the criminal trial to any of her friends.
The criminal allegations seem to have caused the court to transfer custody to Chris, which isn’t unusual given that she was accused of sexual “activity” with a child.
Still, it seems that Chris did keep the children from their mother, or at least restrict their access to her.
Support worker Sheila Griffin, 36, had been acquitted of sex charges following a trial by jury, but three of her four children had already moved in with their father and she had to fight him for contact, an inquest heard…
'I asked her why and she said it was because she was forced to speak to the children on the phone. The lack of contact with the kids really hit her hard.
'She loved her children very much, it was heartbreaking for her family and friends to see her trying to cope without having her children around her…
I felt Chris was not as helpful or accommodating as he could be. He obstructed visitation if anything.
So perhaps Griffin was a victim of a vindictive ex or even of parental alienation.
Or perhaps Chris had good reason to shield his children from their mother.
Mrs Griffin was said to have first started showing signs of depression as a teenager and suffered post-natal depression after the birth of all four of her children.
In 2008, while working at Highfield Hospital in Rochdale, she fell and fractured her skull.
The accident left her with brain damage and epilepsy and meant she was required to take the painkillers to which she eventually became addicted…
In the run up to her death on October 15 last year she had complained of being let down by the system and had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital saying she had 'to get help to face her demons that she just couldn't fight alone.'…
'As a result of Chris getting full custody Sheila began to drink more and take painkillers…
'In terms of Sheila's mental health during 2016 she attempted to take her own life on four occasions.
Oh. All that puts rather a different face on the story than the writer seems to want. Far from being targeted by a bitter ex-husband, it looks like Sheila Griffin was likely a danger to herself and her children and he took reasonable precautions to keep them out of harm’s way. Once we finally get down to cases, we see a woman who’d had mental/emotional problems all her adult life, suffered long bouts of depression, was addicted to painkillers, was drinking heavily and had attempted suicide four times in the course of a single year.
Yes, not seeing her kids very often surely made all of the above worse. But if you’re Chris, what do you do? Expose the kids to a mother in that condition? And Griffin apparently never sought help. As Dr. David Rimmer, consulting psychiatrist at the John Elliott of Birch Hill Hospital said, “She didn’t like talking about it in a way that possibly some form of counselling might have helped.”
I’m all for taking to task family courts that fail to do their best to keep both parents involved in their children’s lives, but this isn’t such a case. It’s tragic that Griffin took her own life, but it doesn’t appear that either the courts or her ex-husband had anything to do with it.
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