Family Law

Why are there more Fathers Rights’ Organisations than Mothers?

quote-there-is-no-greater-warrior-than-a-mother-protecting-her-child-n-k-jemisin-240587I have to get this off my chest. In fact, this is a decade of frustration over my family law case. While I am out of Family Law as are my children, I have had shall we say, a few years to reflect on the mistakes I made back in 2003 in expecting a court would resolve the difficulties within my home environment.

A decade on – Action for Children are working on an alternative offence for the neglect of children. Details of which can be found in the link.

I am passionate about justice and child welfare. Having failed as a mother to protect my children from the damage two warring parents subject any child to, I have found peace within myself to be able to look at situations with a degree of balance.

I opened proceedings in Family Court back in 2004 in order to secure the residency of my own children. The father of my children took great exception to this matter and between us, we started a war. For twelve years, we were married and yes, we had the same difficulties as any other young family. The struggles of the early 90s recession, job losses and the strains of raising two young children. Yet neither of us had our problems with each other as parents of the same children. Our children were paramount in our relationship. When the marriage faltered, we managed for a time to exercise contact between ourselves. My ex-husband was in a new relationship and yes, I was hurting and fragile. But friends supported me and it was clear my marriage was over.

The moment I started court proceedings, was the moment my ex-husband turned against me. Mud was flung, I made scurrilous attempts to undermine him, he counter-acted with further attempts to throw in family history and we viewed each other across a courtroom like two small countries about to launch missile attacks on each other.

Cafcass were brought in to “assess” and one day, his contact order stated he should return them at 18.00 hours and he did not. Without going into a long detailed misery piece of how I fell apart, the long and short of it is, my children were so frightened the result was they no longer wanted to see me. I was awarded (oh the terms used in law) indirect contact. Pretty useless when he refused to disclose where the children were living.

I began to search for a name for what was happening. I found it. This name was Parental Alienation Syndrome. I latched onto this and a decade ago, it was not too well-known in the UK. I spent time with Americans who were far more advanced in this topic. I searched for Mother’s Groups who were suffering the same and very few were around. I came across MATCH (Mothers apart from their children) joined but soon became frustrated with the whole process and carried on racking up huge legal bills that I simply could not pay for. The journey took me to Europe, the Middle East, the United States and I chased my tail until it all ended back in England in a criminal dock with my liberty in a Judge’s hands.

In 2014,it has been ten years since my ex-husband made me see my children in a car park. He refused to allow me to see them only under his command. I had no choice but to respect his decision. Please do not misunderstand, I have no problem with my ex-husband’s abilities as a father, he was and is a good father. He hated me for beginning those proceedings and “taking him to court”

Jumping forward to the present day, I have seen Father’s Rights groups, contact groups and a whole new PAS-aware world. But rarely, do I see, a decade on, Mothers Groups. Fathers Groups’ tell me and I do engage with them, as I do support the family unit, Family Law favours Mothers rights over Fathers. I disagree, Family Law does not favour mothers over fathers, nor does it favour Fathers over Fathers. I do not see this at all. What I do see and what I have experienced, is the worst words any parents could fear. “You will never see your child/children again”

This is a traumatic statement for any parent. Having discussed this with Natasha Phillips who is passionate over the welfare of children, she experienced this and that statement in itself proved to be true for me, ten years is a long time for any child to not see a parent. I know, I never saw my own mother for three decades and when I found her, it was not a pretty sight.

I see Fathers battling for their “rights” to see their child/children and years of estrangements at the hands of the mother. Wars in secret courtrooms where emotions run high and broken parents fight to the very last for their children, believing this is the way forward. I see Fathers Rights’ groups tell of wicked, evil liars of mothers who have stopped them from seeing their children and recently, I have seen support for the imprisonment of mothers who prevent children from seeing their fathers.

This is where I stop. Halt! When we begin to wish criminalizing the mother or father of our children, then I see even bigger problems occurring. I am against an alternative offence for neglect of children. The Criminal Justice System is a monster and children of imprisoned parents suffer more than any adult will ever at the hands of the CJS.

My message to Father’s Groups:

I understand your pain – I have been where you are. I have no wish to send the father of my children to prison or put him through the hands of the CJS, my children who are now adults love him and he is their father. Why on earth would I want to do this to my children? I am a mother and the loss of my children, I played a part in when I fought for my rights and forgot about their needs. The love they already had from their Mum and Dad.

In a child’s eyes, there is no ranking of who is the better parent. A mother’s love and bond is ferocious and sometimes we fuck it up. But as I enter my 11th year without my children, I do know they are safe and well under the care of their father. I took a step back to allow them to breathe when our war was suffocating them. That was out of love when I saw the terror on their faces of what we were doing to them.  A father’s love is strong and in no way lesser than a mothers. Your children love you no matter what and is it not time to look inside and stop the war?  Whether a mother or a father, is it really necessary to demand the opposing parent is placed into the hands of the criminal justice system? I have been there and let me tell you, it is not a pretty place and the ramifications are huge. Another law is not going to help understand why one parent uses a child as a pawn. In any game of chess, what happens at the end of the game? All the pieces are placed back inside the box…

As I wait, patiently for my children to make contact, this has to be their decision, they are adults now, my heart, my home and everything awaits them as a parent who is repaired. I retain no anger towards the man who made me see them in a car park all those years ago. I was not in his shoes at that time and who is to say I would not have done the same in my rage against him?

And the provocative question of the title of this piece – Why are you the common purpose? Because mothers in many cases, as I was, are demonised by society for not having our children with us. We are in many ways afraid to speak out for the fear of being named and shamed as bad or worse even mad mothers. There is something overtly strong about a father’s love for his child and you are commended for your fight. I support many in this, a father’s love cannot be diminished by a mother’s love for her child as there is room for both in a child’s heart. Love it or loathe it,  Mother Nature cannot be destroyed. Even in a prison cell.

Parental Alienation begins with one parent beginning the process. Many mothers get on with their lives and silently suffer afraid to ask for help. I am not against any campaign for the rights of children but I do believe it is time to look into those little faces we love so dearly and find it in us, to stop the war and leave court to those who do really need it. I know my children will have questions and they have every right to ask me those questions. Just as I had questions for my mother.

I was a child of two warring parents, and I became a parent who wanted a war. History does repeat itself. The scars of that war are hard for me to bear, so what must it be like for a child to understand why the two people they love most in the world hate each other so?

Cheery Advertisements for Adopting Babies – Give me my Baby…

ImageLast night a cheery advertisement appeared. Of course, this is a registered charity. It is called Adoption Matters (North West) and is a combination of the (formerly known as) Chester Diocese of Adoption Services & Blackburn Diocese Adoption Agency.

The cheery flashcards appeared in front of smiling couples. Same sex couples, older couples, working couples and younger couples. It’s aim, I have translated to “we are open to everyone” Beautifully delivered with pretty colours and smiling children doing finger painting and such. Lovely…

Prior to seeing the cheerful marketing piece, I’d read a report from the Lords discussing women in custody. In there were some sobering figures. 18,000 children had been separated from their mothers who were sentenced to short-term custodial sentences. If you’re getting my drift, you’ll be expecting a rant on short-term prison sentences for women and how costly these are… But no. I have done that one till it’s died, been resurrected, reborn and then some.

I am a birth mother. At the young age of 20 years old, I found myself pregnant. My family were in a pickle and did not know what to do with me. This pregnancy split my family deeply – and eventually, a member of my family found me, took me home, decided I was unable to care for my baby and arranged with my GP to begin the adoption process. This was in 1989. I gave birth to my 8lb son after 15 hours of labour at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral. I was allowed contact with my baby for the two days I was in hospital and one memory that truly hits home is the tiny wristband – Baby McMahon – for adoption. I left my son in hospital after 48 hours. My feelings were not addressed as a young woman, I was on tablets to stop my milk & my family told me to get on with my life. We registered the birth, we completed the forms for child benefit and a social worker came to visit me to inform me of the process. When my son was six weeks old, I was allowed to visit him with the foster parents he had been placed with. I was given a short-list of “picked” parents and I dutifully chose a couple. In the run up to the birth, I had made an album for my son, with a letter that I had written to him. This detailed our family background, as much as I knew of his father and a nice analogy of how happy our family were, but that I was unable to care for him and I felt this was the best way forward. I met with the couple I had chosen, I handed them the album and said the words, “You will be his parents, you may not want to give this to him and I understand if you don’t, but it is there for you should you feel it will help him to understand his biological family.

When my son was six months old, I signed the papers presented to me by the social worker. I simply signed my name and that was it. Officialdom was done. Child benefit was dealt with – (the child benefit during this time was sent to the agency to pay for the fostering fees) and away I went with my life.

But you see – nobody can ever fill this hole. Platitudes of “it must be awful” and “only a person who loves their child would do such a gracious thing”  honestly? They do nothing for me. The tears of parents who are broadcast on programmes finding their loved ones, I cannot watch. They make me feel sick to my stomach. It isn’t a grief that ever goes away – it is a grief that remains daily. A pain that can never be soothed no matter how much balm one places on it. Grateful parents who are unable to have children rain down immense amounts of praise on the birth mother and make promises of caring for this gift they never thought they would have. I’m supposed to feel proud and a good person for doing something worthwhile. When I actually feel like screaming out “give me my baby” No counselling, no therapist can ever remove this. Because there is not a godamm fucking thing you can do about it. All I could do was come to terms with walking away, signing some court papers and holding onto to one picture that was sent to me of my baby sitting on a furry rug in an outfit that I had knitted for him.

Of course, my life has not been smooth – the state took me away from my mother, then took my child at the behest of my family, then allowed the eroding of my relationship with my two children from my marriage. Ending up in a criminal dock with a Judge holding my liberty in his hands was the ultimate straw that broke the camel’s back. Smashed to bits, I have thrown myself at walls many times, smashed myself up and committed acts that are against the law… the last year has been forming a new existence and working myself into the ground to work to help women who have lost everything. I don’t care what they have done and when they have lost their children, I see it in their eyes. No matter what nasal-expanding exercises they engage in, no matter what they steal, I know there is pain there that can never be dealt with in the realms of rehabilitation.

As I sit here now, in my little home, watch cheery, colourful marketing ploys for adoptive parents, look at colourful websites with call-to-action statements to “contact us” I look and think of picking up a sledgehammer and smashing it through the TV screen and say:

“Give me my Baby”

 

 

“Why did Mummy not fight to keep me…”

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Debby Smith looks at The Children & Families Act 2014

The new Children and Families Act 2014 came into place this week. Along came the usual frenzy from the press and social media. There was of course an abundance of scare mongering and hash tagging in relation to mediation and domestic violence. One item that seemed to have slipped through the automatic reactionaries net which bothers me is this;

“26-week time limit for completing care and supervision proceedings”

That is 6 months for a parent to turn their life around. Scenarios were racing through my mind in abundance. I actually played out in my mind, my own situation albeit long time ago now. The conclusion I came to if my children where in the care of the local authority under the new law they might have been adopted!

The Government are resolute in thinking adoption is the way forward. The onus is primarily on the Local Authority which leads me to think along the lines of this. As social workers are increasingly put under pressure, their duty of care is to remove children from harm etc., hence the beginning of care proceedings with a conclusion of a final hearing in 26 weeks. However, information, the placing of the children, reports, expert witness, plan for parents, and a way forward is to be collated and acted upon in this allotted timescale. The obligation on the Local Authority or a Cafcass officer is becoming very much your life in their hands and there are limited pathways back.

Where are all the foster carers coming from and the loving and caring adoptive families? I am thinking we will have a generation of children begging for answers from psychiatrists “why did my mummy not fight to keep me?” Someone somewhere will undoubtedly have the unenviable job of explaining that mummy or daddy simply didn’t have the time. Figures from the British Adoption and Fostering org say 68,110 children were in local authority care in 2013. The figure rose from the previous year and so in trend it should rise again this year unless, miraculously we see a sharp rise in positive parenting. As funds are required to operate the new law will increase yet the manpower to implement remains static. One can only worry as to whether the thin line to remove or not may become increasingly thicker.

The Judicial system is in disarray to put it mildly. More often parents are attending court as litigants in person often unrepresented, some with mental health, drug, alcohol issues. This will ultimately undermine the rule of law according to Lord Neuberger. Unfortunately some are attending court alone when they may be eligible for legal aid. There are no regulations at this time to monitor paid McKenzie friends without a legal qualification so once again the vulnerable are left exposed. The Personal Support Unit which operates inside the court building is a charity that is again run by unqualified volunteers. In this all singing and dancing new system there is no accountability for self-appointed support in court.

Not until someone in our brave new world stops, thinks, and puts the law to a test, the hands of both Judiciary and parents are handcuffed. Mouths gagged by the same Legislation. In reality there are some parents who with all the time and money and access to help, their issues will never resolve and the final outcome for their children will be adoption. I surmise the debate will gain momentum and hopefully gain media support in a right and just way, and not just a keyboard uprising.

The vulnerable suffer yet again, not only children and parents but decision makers too. There are social workers through to Judges and all in between who will serve for the greater good. They will go the extra mile, show compassion, and are passionate in what they do.
Increasingly it is like covering the wound of a severed arm with a plaster.

“Society without access to law does not do justice to society”

Author

Debby Smith