Wednesday, June 24th, 2015
There can be the assumption that when parents are going through separation, the mother instantly gives the child all their care and attention whilst the father fades away. The telegraph published an article around this subject, as Neil Lyndon reports ‘thousands of divorced fathers are eliminated from their children’s lives because of the ‘implacable hostility’ of mothers with custody.’
The story made headlines last October. Left-field events like this happen so rarely that they almost always get onto the front page.
A High Court judge in London ordered that a 10 year-old girl should be removed from her mother?s care because the girl had been systematically estranged from her father by her mother?s ?ranting? against the man.
Ruling that the mother?s conduct was manifestly harmful for the daughter and contrary to her long-term interests, Mrs Justice Parker observed that the child had been manipulated into believing that her father did not want her; and she ordered that the girl should be taken into the care of social services as a half-way measure towards placing her in her father?s care. The court heard that the girl was likely to be resistant to being reunited with her father without such interim measures.
To the national media, this story stood out as an extraordinary moment, reversing normal prejudiced assumptions that a mother will give children kindly care while a feckless father swaggers off over the horizon.
Men?s and fathers? groups saw the case in a different light, however. To them, it reflected a phenomenon that they see all too frequently ? the elimination of fathers from their children?s lives by unmitigated, unscrupulous demands on the children?s loyalty on the part of the mother with custody, along with the unremitting denigration and belittling of the father.
For those organisations, the only unusual feature of this case was that the harmful conduct of the mother was actually recognised by the court; and that, for once, officialdom did something about it.
As Ross Jones of Families Need Fathers put it: ?We see lots of cases like this. Such conflicts of loyalty for the children do seem to be a common feature of high-conflict separations. It?s a huge problem for many users of our service and one which receives very little attention.?
Nine out of 10 children of separating or divorcing couples live most of the time with their mothers so the controlling parent is likely to be the woman and the estranged, undermined parent is likely to be the man. It is not unknown, however, for mothers to be on the receiving end of this process, where the children are living mostly with the father.
It is called ?implacable hostility?. Some psychologists have written about “Parental Alienation Syndrome” but that designation is not recognised by the courts. The phenomenon is so broadly overlooked in the family law system that no official figures exist for the numbers of children it may affect.
In Psychology Today, Edward Kruk has written of 11-15% of the children of divorcing parents suffering the effects of implacable hostility. In the UK, where roughly 250,000 divorces are granted every year, that estimate would equate to some 50,000-75,000 children every year.
Ross Jones says ?It is recognised that children who are in the centre of such extreme conflicts of loyalty between their parents may suffer short-term damage in anxiety and depression and longer term difficulties in education, mental illness and their own adult relationships.?
It is important to stress that, while such cases may be numerous, they are abnormal. If 11-15 per cent of children in divorce suffer the effects of implacable hostility, 85-89 per cent do not. Despite the dominance of a gynocentric culture over the last 40 years, a broad and deep consensus on children?s needs for both parents and the equal responsibilities of mother and father is now securely in place in Britain.
According to a recent YouGov poll 95 per cent of us agree that both parents should share responsibility for bringing up children and 85 per cent agree that fathers are instrumental in bringing up children. That consensus has been reflected in recent amendments to the Children and Families Act 2014 which now require courts making child arrangement orders ?to presume that the involvement of both separating parents in the life of a child will further its welfare?.
Even so, a parent who does not put first the emotional needs of the children but is primarily driven to exact revenge upon a former spouse or partner or to impose punishment by frustrating or thwarting their relationship with their children is, in the very nature of domestic life, almost impossible to control.
What form of legislation can outlaw the insidious undermining or disparagement of the other parent by snide remarks or the lurid exaggeration of imagined fears which require the children to line up their loyalties with the apparently threatened or embattled parent?
The courts are often confronted with an impossible dilemma where young children voice a determined preference not to see or be involved with a parent. How can anybody be sure that the child is expressing true feelings that have been freely developed rather than a point of view which has been inculcated by a manipulative parent?
Early intervention is essential, says Ross Jones. ?Cases involving implacable hostility can be in and out of court for years. Prevention is better than cure.?
Where contact with children is being frustrated or denied and the children themselves are rejecting a parent with whom they previously had good relationships, specialists in mediation and child psychology should get involved without delay.
The prospect of a court order placing a child in the care of social services as a halfway house between parents surely ought to be too terrible for everybody to contemplate.