Yusuf Muhammad argues that the British family courts are letting vengeful ex-wives and partners get away with child abuse by denying children access to their fathers.
The gory media revelations of child abuse led to a swift response against Jimmy Saville, Stewart Hall and various other high-profile figures who were, in most cases, subsequently prosecuted in court. However, another form of long-term child abuse, less horrific than systematic sexual molestation but still extremely cruel and traumatic, is still being tolerated as a result of Britain’s inept legal framework.
This is the severing of contact between a child and one of his loving parents for no justifiable reason. This happens when the resident parent, i.e. the one with full custody, who, due to personal vengeance against the ex-partner, denies the right of access, often completely, between any children and the non-resident parent.
The child must then carry the burden of the resident parent’s hatred. Then, when the non-resident parent is forced to get the law involved, he or she is in for an uphill, often never-ending battle.
Question of justice
Statistically speaking, most cases in the UK are like mine. The mother has full custody of the children and the father is struggling to gain access, hence the proliferation of fathers’ groups such as Fathers for Justice and Families Need Fathers. Some have construed this as an attack on women. In actual fact, this is not an issue of gender; it is one of justice.
The experience that I and many other fathers typically undergo is that after the partners have separated, the mother will ensure that no contact, be it via phone calls or face-to-face communication, is given between him and the children. The child wonders where his father is and in many cases is told that his father is a terrible person and that he is better off without him and for sure, this may be the case. There are numerous situations where the father is rightly denied access to the child, for instance, where he is a substance abuser or has displayed violence and cruelty.
But there are too many situations where the mother uses the child as a pawn to hurt the feelings of her ex-partner. She knows that he is a loving father and that she is causing him extreme pain by depriving him of the children. However, what she forgets is that by doing this, she is forcing the child to shoulder some serious adult emotions.
Take the case of my oldest son. As far as I am concerned, a child of his age should have no worries greater than which toy he wants for his birthday. However, after my ex-wife and I finalised our divorce, she point blank refused to allow me to see him or our younger son. This was because of her resentment toward me and technically, it had nothing to do with our sons.
However, while I found (and still find) the separation from my sons very upsetting, I, as an adult, am able to deal with the emotional implications. My eldest naturally does not have the emotional maturity of a grown man, and yet, due to his mother’s actions, is being forced to experience a situation that is far beyond his natural capacity.
Whilst the non-resident parent’s behaviour is closely scrutinised, the resident parent’s role in damaging the children psychologically and emotionally gets completely overlooked. This is the norm not only socially but also in terms of legal representation, which is the concern that motivates me to write this article.
Typically, the non-resident parent will do their utmost, simply to be allowed to see the child again, ideally on a regular basis. The way to do this in the UK is by going to court and being issued with a contact order, often at the financial expense of the non-resident parent.
The contact order contains terms agreed upon by both parents in the presence of a judge, including when and where the non-resident parent may spend time with the child or children in question. These terms could have been agreed upon through personal agreement or through an out-of-court arbitration using a third party, but the court becomes involved because the resident parent refuses to use these means.
Ironically, since the court proceedings have begun, I have upheld the terms of the contact order to the letter, maintaining punctuality with my contact sessions, whereas she has been in breach numerous times. This refusal to comply with the contact order is illegal. However, the mother knows that she can get away with it because the courts will not reprimand her.
My ex-wife made up numerous excuses for denying contact. These ranged from alleged bedwetting to sickness. However absurd these claims appear, I know that they are the norm. I learned from a professional in the field of child protection that these excuses were not only typical, but were part of a whole list of obstacles that mothers frequently put up when choosing to deny contact between children and their fathers.
Like many other fathers, I have been denied access to my children yet again for no reason other than the mother’s own whim, and while she uses legal aid to access the courts again and again, I must pay out of my own pocket with money that could be going towards my children’s maintenance and future.
The idea behind not sanctioning the mother is that she is usually the one with prime responsibility for the child, but as long as the British courts fail to enforce contact orders rigorously, they are upholding the status quo of the suffering child. In essence, as long as our judges refuse to punish parents who flout contact orders that they themselves have issued, it is the psychological abuse of the child that they are mandating, and not the attempt to stabilise his family environment.
“I will continue fighting”
All hope is not lost and perhaps the UK will catch up with the rest of the EU regarding fair parental contact when two parents have split up. A senior Judge, Mr Justice Coleridge, stepped up and publicly acknowledged the current, sorry state of affairs in 2010 by making a statement, outlined below:
“Family courts are losing their authority because so many people take no notice of their judgments. Around 5,000 new cases a year come before the family courts in which parents – almost always mothers – defy orders to let the other parent have contact. Judges are extremely reluctant to jail such mothers because of the damaging effects on the children, so many continue to get away with it.”
He then went on to suggest that if a mother failed to comply with a contact order three times, she should face a consequence matching our fellow EU nations, i.e. that the children should immediately be handed to the father. That would end the further traumatisation of children, and would subsequently lead to the healing of society.
As ever, such changes are slow to manifest and as 2015 approaches, I wonder how many broken hearts and suicides will take place before the UK’s family law is put under serious scrutiny. I am still waiting to see if the family courts will show some teeth, and stop the abuse that is being inflicted upon my two sons.
All the while, I will keep on hoping and fighting for my sons. Not only am I determined to have my right to fatherhood recognised, but I believe that this abuse and traumatisation of our children cannot continue to be ignored and facilitated by the current inept legal system.