Yesterday I ran into a very powerful blog post about the treatment of women and children in the family courts. It is a tough read, CW for a lot of abuse detail https://victimfocusblog.com/2020/09/22/misogyny-in-the-family-courts/
I spent a couple of years in the UK family court system. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t gone through it appreciates what a harrowing system it is to be in.
Firstly, the assumption is that contact with both parents is what the child wants, and in the child’s best interests. This largely isn’t affected by what the child says. Or how the police assess risk in the situation. My solicitors told me that if I had been killed by my ex, he could still expect contact.
I was questioned repeatedly about traumatic experiences. This is the worst thing to do to someone who has been traumatised, but I was made to revisit those experiences over and over again. No one seemed to care what that, or any other aspect of the process was doing to my mental health. My poor mental health was, however, raised as an issue about whether I could be a good parent.
It is normal to threaten to take the child away if you don’t co-operate with contact. The parent who is seen as being hostile to other parent, will be told that non-cooperation can mean they are seen as the problem and the child will end up with the other parent. This is a terrifying situation to be put in. Give the child to the abuser, or the abuser gets the child for most of the time. The blog link I shared details examples of how this happens even when the child themselves is reporting being abused by the other parent. It is also normally the case, from what I’ve heard from other women, that victims of violence and sexual assault are treated as unreasonable if they don’t want their child to have contact with the person who did that to them. In all other contexts we try and protect children from known sex offenders.
I was upset, terrified and emotional the whole time. My ex was calm and reasonable. This counted against me. I was treated as though I was irrational. I never felt anyone considered that I might have had good reasons to feel as I did.
The family court system will put pressure on parents to present the other parent as a good person. This is hard when an adult is setting a child a really bad example. It’s also highly problematic if there is abusive behaviour. It’s really hard to parent well if you don’t feel safe telling your child if they are being treated badly, if something unsafe is going on, or inappropriate. For example, if one parent decides to ‘win over’ the child by letting them stay up late, watch whatever they want, eat what they want, not do their homework, and buys them anything they want it is the parent who stands up to this who is going to be in trouble with the family courts.
I’m just talking broadly here. I could write pages on the things that were said to me that haunt me still. It was a process that had a terrible impact on my mental health. But, I got my child through with no direct contact with the father he did not want to see. I was told repeatedly that he would want contact at some point. The boy is 18 now, and free to do as he pleases and oddly enough, he still doesn’t want contact.
This is a system that needs to change. There needs to be much better recognition of the widespread nature of domestic abuse. It needs to be clearly understood that an abusive person is not going to be a good or safe parent. Children who report abuse in this context should always be taken seriously. Safety should be the first concern, always. Better support needs to be in place for abuse victims.