D worked abroad on and off, he was paid well for his trips away and saw them as a way of making sure his family was well cared for. D’s wife encouraged and supported him, whilst he was away, she spent her time with one of his best friends. One day, D came home and his wife and his best friend were nowhere to be seen. D’s children were gone too, along with much of the furniture that he had worked so hard to pay for. D was devastated, lost and incredibly afraid. It took him three weeks to find out that his wife had moved to another town, with his children and his best friend.
Seven weeks after D’s wife was discovered to be living with another man in another town, D went to court to ask for permission to see his two beloved children. Before he arrived at the court however, he was notified that an injunction had been granted against him, on the grounds that he had been violent towards his wife. D was mystified, he had never been violent and as he had not seen his wife for seven weeks, how could he be guilty of the harassment that his wife was alleging? D found out, when he exited the court room, that the injunction prevented the court from hearing his plea for time with his children. If D was a violent man, the court reasoned, then he should not be having contact with his children until that issue was investigated.
D was bewildered. He went to every agency he could find to ask for help but no-one listened. As soon as he reached the part where an injunction had been granted, they shook their head and said they could not assist him. D was completely destroyed by the time he went home to his nearly empty house.
When the injunction was lifted on the grounds that there was no case to answer, D resumed his efforts to see his children. His wife consented, after some wrangling in court, to his children spending two nights each weekend with D and though D was disappointed that he had not been able to agree more time, he set about making those two nights cosy and comfortable with his children (who were overwhelmed with delight when they finally got to see him).
Two weekends went by without a hitch but on the third weekend, D received a phone call from his children’s mother, she was almost hysterical, she had had a miscarriage she told him, the children would have to go home to her, she needed them. No amount of persuasion that the children did not need to be exposed to adult sorrow would move her, if he did not bring them home at once she would call the police. D dutifully returned the children to comfort their mother. His heart was incredibly heavy as he walked back down the path.
Each and every weekend following that, D got used to the time he spent with his children being disrupted by their mother until one evening, tired of the battle he did not answer the phone. Shortly after, a banging on the door woke up the children who were terrified to see their mother on the doorstep, angry and outraged that the phone had not been answered. D tried to calm the children’s mother and placate her, to no avail. Soon she was attacking him, in front of the children, accusing him of stealing her children away from her when she needed them most. D fell silent as he watched the children’s faces, his heart felt like lead in his chest.
Twenty two weeks later and D does not know where the children live anymore. In the time between that last event and now, his children have been moved by Women’s Aid, working with the Local Authority and the Police and the children’s GP. His children were not under a care order, they were not subject to a child in need plan and they were not on the at risk register. His children’s mother however was considered to be vulnerable by Women’s Aid workers who interpreted D’s desire to care for his children as being a deliberate attempt to control their mother. Using an allegation of Domestic Abuse, these workers secured a Local Authority home for D’s children and their mother and her new partner (his ex best friend) and made sure that no-one told D where the children were. Using the Police, these workers made sure that D’s children were considered to be at risk of harm from D (he hadn’t touched a hair on their heads), using Social Services, these workers made sure that the children’s mother was seen to be vulnerable. These agencies formed a ring of impenetrable steel around D’s children and their mother which prevented him from seeing his children normally for almost three years. A struggle through the family courts, with supervised contact centres, expert reports, stop/start contact and wave after wave of allegation almost killed D.
When he finally got to see his children in what could be called a normal setting, they were mute in his company and horribly withdrawn. D was in despair, not at the sight of his children, so still and so silent but at the damage that had been done to their relationship with him. He could not conceive of how such horror could be inflicted upon children, as an adult he felt he could at least understand on an intellectual level what was happening. All his children could see was that their father, with whom they had built sandcastles and played rounders with, who had tucked them up and read stories to them, was gone from their lives.
It took less than ten minutes to bring the children round and begin the process of rebuilding their relationship with D, it will take those children a lifetime to recover from the scarring caused by those workers, who saw nothing but the desire of the mother to be free of the father to live a life of her own choosing.
They still hang on to D each time they leave him and ask him again and again, ‘will you still be here next week dad?’
Their mother recently made a new allegation. Who knows whether he will be.
This post is from my case work although it is heavily disguised to ensure that the family’s identity is protected. In the spirit of a discussion that we have been having recently about whether or not debate is welcome on this blog, I welcome comments on this post, particularly your views of whether or not it is right to approach cases like this from the perspective of the rights of the woman first (which in my experience is the usual approach to family separation support) and the children as secondary with their needs being indivisible from those of their mother.
My approach to supporting families like this is to acknowledge and support the vulnerability of the mother whilst helping her to accept that making a choice to leave her husband does not mean that she can automatically eradicate their relationship with their father. Where there is evidence of violence, either situational, couple or separation instigated, I would ensure that the safety of both parties is paramount and that the children do not witness the struggle of the parents to get free of each other, Where there is co-ercive directive violence in either direction (meaning that flight from the other parent is a flight for life and limb and where there has been sustained and violent oppression of one parent by the other), I would indeed support removal to a place of safety. In this case however, as in so many others I work in, violence is alleged and behaviour is interpreted using the Duleth Model or the Freedom Programme. One of the ways in which a man can be considered to be abusive in these models is by wanting to maintain a relationship with his children. In many cases the allegation that a man only wants to be with his children to punish his wife is made, this is usually alongside statements such as ‘he only wants the kids to get a house for himself’ and other sweeping allegations which are part of the process of interpreting a man’s behaviour using feminist ideology.
I am therefore interested in hearing from people, their views of this case and whether it echoes their own or others and whether they feel that there is indeed a different way of doing things which is outside of the feminist paradigm of putting the needs of women first and children secondary.
And debate is welcome, it will inform my thinking and impress some of my commentators who will know that I am listening!