The story of the mum on the run with her son this week has brought all sorts of commentary, outrage, handwringing and despair out into the open. From the family members who are suspected of knowing where she is, to the words of the mum herself, ‘I am putting my child first,’ to the tub thumping of the parental rights groups, this case has hit the headlines. But for me, the most interesting things about it are not the mother on the run or even the fact that if this were a dad the words used would be kidnap, but the double standards of those for whom the family courts are the embodiment of evil. In some quarters there has been a miraculous turn around and those same family courts are now not evil but are dispensing justice which should be obeyed. Some are even trotting out the old chestnut that if a mother has lost a residence order she must have ‘done something very seriously wrong.’ It seems there is no justice until it is justice one agrees with. This double standard helps no-one, least of all children and it simply furthers the men versus women war upon which so much of the women’s rights lobby depends upon. It is not savvy and it is not sophisticated and we should stop and think before we launch ourselves headlong into this gendered battle.
The publication of this case has given us the opportunity to discuss in public for once, the kind of things that happen when cases like this approach the residence transfer point. It is a place I am used to because it is where I work with families. The Guardian gives us some more flesh on the bones in its reporting of the matter and, whilst I have been cautioned by readers in recent days for relying upon the media for reporting of family court issues, the Guardian paints for me, a familiar picture.
In January 2014, Minnock made allegations against Williams. These were all rejected by a district judge in April 2014. A hearing next took place in February 2015, after Minnock made further allegations. A district judge found these had been “fabricated” by Minnock to “frustrate contact”.
Ethan began to spend four nights a week with his father and three nights a week with his mother. A child psychiatrist, Dr Mark Berelowitz, carried out a report on Ethan and found the boy had a “warm relationship” with both parents. However, Berelowitz said Minnock did not accept that Williams was innocent of her allegations and had questioned Ethan “extensively”. He recommended that Ethan should live with his father and have supervised contact with Minnock, a view shared by a social worker.
Another court hearing was listed before a district judge on 27 May. Prior to the hearing, Minnock was advised that Ethan would be taken to live with his father and fled before the case could be heard.
This is the kind of case I work with regularly, a case where a child is subjected to the pressures placed upon him by a parent who believes that the other parent has done something dreadful to the child in order to prevent the child from spending time with that parent. When this reaches a point where the parent who is fabricating the allegations cannot or will not stop what they are doing and when the child’s mind is being damaged by the efforts to inculcate false beliefs about what has happened, transfer of residence is to my mind the quickest, safest and healthiest approach to resolving the issue. If only these cases could be dealt with quickly. The sad thing about them is that the child is often so badly damaged by the time the court acts that it is impossible to resolve them. I hope Wildblood does the right thing when this mother returns and an immediate transfer is made for the boy to live with dad. From there the biggest task is rehabilitation into the relationship with his mother, a process which is important but often fraught with concern and danger, particularly when a parent refuses to undertake psychological testing. Let’s be clear. These cases are not straightforward residence and contact battles, they are child protection issues which have to be dealt with robustly and in a particular way to safeguard the child. In many cases the alienating parent does not understand what they have done or is incapable of changing. Skilled help in those circumstances is essential to protect the child and restore a balanced relationship. This is about therapy not court processes and assistance to give the child the best chance going forward.
The core issue however is that outside of the gendered outrage that if this were a man there would be a hunt going on and this woman must have done something seriously bad to warrant the loss of her child in this way, there is a narrative that this is somehow ‘proper justice’ and that this transfer of residence from mother to father is a step in the right direction and a move towards the right kind of justice. It strikes me that all this is just hot air and as I said in my last post, wind baggery. This transfer of residence, whilst it suits the fathers rights groups because it is about the child going to live with his father and outrages the women’s rights groups because it exemplifies male control over women, is what it should be – the movement of a child from the unhealthy parent to the healthy one. In this respect it is based upon the rights of the child to live free from harm and it is truly acting on the child’s best interests because children who are subjected to false allegations and whose parent cannot or will not stop that, are in danger of all sorts of problems as they grow older, not least the delusion that they have been harmed by a parent who loves them and thereby robbed of that parent’s love. This is not a gender issue for me, it is a mental health issue and the court is acting upon the advice of a mental health consultant who has the courage to say it how it is and advise a transfer. If only there were more, the children I see suffering would not be left so long before they obtained the freedome they deserve.
Double standards in commentary and narrative about the family court system helps no-one. The core of this issue is not that this is the right kind of justice because we agree with it because it is a Judge acting against a mother. It is not that all mothers without their children ‘must have done something seriously wrong to deserve losing them,’ it is not that all dads are wonderful but prevented from being so by an evil court system which is biased against them, it is that a child is in danger and a Judge has had the guts to do the thing which will make him safe again. There is a lot wrong with the family justice system and there is a whole lot more wrong with the family services that sit around it but dads do this to kids as well as mums. There are good mums and bad dads and bad mums and good dads and in between there are children who need the people who can help to do so quickly and with their best interests in focus. This is a case where what is needed is being done. That’s where our focus should be, not on the gender war and double standards that fog reality and simply attempt to swing the pendulum back in the other direction.
Healthy and unhealthy parent, not mother versus father and justice which supports the child’s needs instead of seeing the child as an extension of the mother. That’s what is important about this judgement, the rest is not.