Announcing the Christmas Competition: Let It Snow?

Stowe Family Law|December 28th 2011

This summer I ran a competition focused on a fictional scenario about a family falling apart at the seams, and asked what advice you would give them. Could the marriage be saved? What would a good financial settlement be? How could the couple best prepare their children?

Given the overwhelming quality and number of the entries, I have decided to run another! This is a Christmas Competition, which will close on 3rd January 2012 at 9am. Once again, I am asking you to give your opinion of the outcome. You don’t need to be a lawyer to take part and, although it’s a puzzle, there are no right or wrong answers. The prize will be a fabulous box of chocolates and a bottle of good champagne!

The focus this time is firmly on the children of the family. I also hope that by highlighting some of the issues our firm regularly encounters, some readers may be helped and inspired by other readers’ answers to resolve their own conflicts.

My view remains clear: however messy it may seem, no problem is ever insurmountable. It requires give and take, understanding of everyone’s feelings, common sense, and much goodwill. But isn’t that what this season is all about?

Ed and Jane have been married for 14 years. Ed, 44, is an investment banker in the City of London and now lives in rented accommodation near his work. Jane, 43, is a housewife and lives in East Dulwich, a fairly prosperous suburb in the south east of the capital. They have two children; Charlie is 12 and Sam is 10. The boys live with Jane in the family home.

Ed and Jane have both had occasional flings outside their marriage and they know about each other’s misdemeanours. They stayed together until Ed started an affair with Naomi last year. She works in Central London and lives in a flat in Pimlico. Naomi is 40 years old, divorced, and lives with her daughter Betsy, who is 8.

Ed was dazzled by Naomi; she was fun and exciting. His love for Jane had waned and had become more a “sisterly” affection and, although he never stopped respecting her abilities as a mother, Naomi emphasised how much the sparkle had gone from his marriage. After a great deal of soul searching, he made up his mind to leave.

He was sure his children would think the same of Naomi as he did and on one occasion, even engineered for Charlie and Sam to accidentally bump into Naomi and Betsy when he took them out for lunch after rugby practice. She was introduced as “a friend from work” and they all got on very well. Naomi said afterwards that she was thrilled to meet the boys and it was clear they liked her too. The boys said she was “hot”, but thought nothing more of it as Ed was careful to make sure it was as casual as possible.

Over the following months, the relationship between Ed and Jane became increasingly strained. Ed went to see a solicitor and was advised about his financial position. He felt he could afford to go ahead, so he made the decision to tell Jane about his feelings for Naomi, after which he wrote a long email to her in which he unburdened himself, going into detail about their relationship had changed. He then left home and he moved into a rented flat near his work but has been staying mostly with Naomi and Betsy.

Ed’s decision to leave came as a huge shock to Jane and the two boys.  All were distraught and even Ed became more distressed and emotional about the situation than he had thought he would be. It affected his focus at work. Money problems mounted too as he realised leaving home was going to cost more than he had anticipated. His carefully planned idea of an amicable divorce had taken a turn for the worse. In his mind, Jane was becoming incredibly and unnecessarily bitter; she employed highly expensive lawyers who on her instructions immediately issued proceedings.

As he saw it, she “went” for him. He now blames Jane for wrecking his relationship with his children, whose attitude towards him has changed. Ed has more or less given up communicating with Jane. Every email is bitter and unforgiving and Ed believes she is showing her true colours. He invariably responds in kind.

The boys were initially bewildered and shocked by their father’s sudden departure from home. They watch their mother alternate between shock, denial and anger and usually get a front row seat. She frequently breaks down in tears and starts ranting about their father and “that bloody woman”, before telling them how much they mean to her and that she is depending on them. They are scared too since she has told them they may be losing their home and that “it’s all because of their selfish father who has put his own happiness first”.

Ed’s overriding concern is for his children. At first he tried to give each of them the space to process what had happened, but he is growing increasingly fearful that their view is simply being made more partisan by Jane by the day. This is made worse by the fact that the children are feeling the pressure at school and at home. They love both their parents but do not know what to do or how to react. Of course they act as children; they feel desperately upset for their mother and for themselves, they are angry with their father who they believe has deserted them.

As yet Ed has not mentioned their mother’s adultery during the marriage but it has certainly crossed his mind since she has taken the moral high ground with the children. He believes the marriage broke down over many years, not just because of Naomi and he resents her attitude.

Charlie is being overprotective towards his mother and refuses to see, or even speak to his father. He will not talk to him on the phone and has completely cut him off. Jane has become increasingly dependent on Charlie, calling him “the man of the house” and “her rock”. She keeps saying, “How could I manage without you?”

Sam has become silent and withdrawn except that if pressed by Jane to say something, he will lash out and run to his room. Sam stays with his father, and is clingy when they are together. He is generally morose and moody with both parents. He does get on with Naomi and Betsy when they meet up at Ed’s flat and go out. At school however, he has become argumentative and his work is suffering. His teachers complain that he is becoming increasingly difficult.

One issue that no one saw coming is that the children no longer come as a unit. They have individual views and needs. Ed is bewildered trying to treat the children as adults (particularly Charlie), yet remembering that only a short time ago he treated them as children who did as they were told.

Jane is determined that Naomi will play no part whatsoever in the children’s lives. She refuses to permit them to meet her. Sam told her that he had met Naomi and Betsy and as a result Jane’s solicitors have said that until an undertaking is received that Naomi will not be present, there will be no further contact between Sam and his father. Sam is playing it both ways. He tells his parents and Charlie what he thinks they want to hear. Jane genuinely thinks he doesn’t like Naomi and Betsy.

As for the Christmas arrangements, the family has made it clear that Ed is unwelcome at home, citing that “it would be too distressing all round”. A letter he wrote to Charlie has been returned, unopened. Ed is informed that subject to the undertaking not to bring Sam into contact with Naomi he may see Sam on Boxing Day, but that thereafter they are all going to stay with Jane’s parents in Yorkshire until after the New Year to give the family some space.

Sam has told Ed that Jane is talking of moving the family back to Yorkshire when the house is sold. He told him: “Mum has been saying how green it is in Yorkshire. The people are friendly, there is lots of nice scenery and we will be getting dogs and going horse riding. We will have new schools, a new life and we will all be happy again. She says that ‘we don’t need Dad”.

Ed is deeply concerned. He wonders whether it might be easier all round to go along with Jane’s wishes. However, he feels he must see Charlie soon before things deteriorate further.  He is worried that his son is taking on too much emotional responsibility.  Ed is also worried about Sam, there is a danger that he too could slip through the net in the complicated emotional structure.

Another problem is that the schools are expressing concerns. Charlie has seen a school counsellor and now the Educational Welfare Officer wants to talk to Ed and Jane together. Jane won’t attend with Ed and has received a worrying letter in which she feels they are blaming her as the obstructive one.

Ed is upset at not being with his family on Christmas Day. Although he likes Betsy he feels tormented by the thought of spending Christmas with a child who is not his own. He can never feel the same about Betsy as he does about his own boys and her presence reinforces his feelings. It is affecting his behaviour towards Betsy, who in turn can sometimes be rude to him.

Overall, Ed sees his relationship with the children as deeply fractured and is appalled by the thought of the family moving up to Yorkshire. He thinks Jane is being downright evil and hitting back at him as hard as she can through the children.

Jane is furious and hurt. She blames Ed for all their problems. The possibility of calmly rising above those emotions to consider Ed as the good father he is will be difficult for her and she is in no mood for compromise at the moment.

What is YOUR advice to this family?

With Christmas imminent, what should they do next? 

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(18)

  1. DT in Cheshire says:

    “It is better for a parent to be a horrible warning than a good example”.

    George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

    These wistful words may make for a provocative conversation point, or a thought provoking pause and may even have a degree of validity on some levels; nonetheless, in reality, neither Ed nor Jane could be considered a ‘”good example”.

    For the boys, the upset of Jane and Ed splitting up is clearly being compounded by their parents’ treatment of one another.

    Ed thinks that Jane is a good mum and we’re told that he’s a good dad, however, they’re both (albeit in different ways), falling short and this is having a real impact on both themselves and the children.

    If Jane wants to take their children to live in Yorkshire, then, in principle, she probably could and is unlikely to be restricted, unless some ‘exceptional’ grounds (as yet unclear) can be proven – see Re: E [1997].

    However, if it can be successfully demonstrated that appropriate care cannot be given to the children, (and in my opinion a court would have to look at Jane’s conduct, emotional reliance and lack of appropriate emotional availability to the boys), then restrictions could be argued for Re: S [2002].

    I think the further this case stays away from the courts, the better for all concerned; especially the children. Going to court would be protracted, expensive and distressing for all parties (especially the boys) as the judge may request s7/s37 reports in light of Jane’s conduct, potentially, (if not already), leading to “significant harm”.

    Do & Don’t Suggestions:

    DON’T

    1. Use the children as an emotional prop or burden a youngster with ‘man of the house’ responsibilities

    2. Use the children as messengers; the children shouldn’t be hearing about things, especially big events from a parent, before the other parent has been spoken with

    3. Slate the other parent in front of the child. Each child is half Jane and half Ed and so when one insults the other, they’re insulting their children too. Jane and Ed need one another to be strong for the sake of the boys.

    4. Practice the “Ostrich Technique” and avoid dealing with this snowball (which is gather momentum at speed) in the hope that it’ll ‘work itself out’

    5. Think that the relationship between Jane and Ed has ended just because the marriage has – they have two children who will bind them forever

    6. Allow the children to be privy to adult emotional ‘meltdowns’; it’s harmful

    7. Speculate about the future in a non-productive way, especially when nothing has been decided, as this is sure to instil anxiety in the minds of these young boys. Stability is critical, especially now

    8. Do anything, which could potentially undermine or sabotage a child/parent relationship, e.g. by using counterproductive language or expressing negative views of the other. Pouring poison will be toxic and hazardous, especially long-term

    9. Get into the habit of apportioning blame, “Your mum did X…….your dad did Y” or ‘tit-for-tat’. They all need to move forward, in spite of what’s gone on

    DO

    1. Remember that there are three children in our scenario and all of their needs need to be identified and addressed

    2. Ed and Jane need to disentangle themselves from what’s gone before. Draw a line under the past and be prepared to start a new chapter

    3. Before they can help manage their children through this unchartered terrain, Ed and Jane need to get themselves back on track. They need to be able to have a civil relationship without name-calling, manipulation and blame

    4. Even if the marriage is irreparable, try and identify what is was about the other, which they each found appealing in the first instance and enabled them to get on. Harness this and utilise it

    5. I think moving forward, Jane and Ed would benefit from mediation. A skilled mediator can provide a conducive environment to start to get things back on track. Further down the line, the children may like to participate in this process as they can impart their views on neutral territory without feeling disloyal and they may even feel empowered by being involved in a process which will shape their future

    6. Jane and Ed need to be cognisant of how their behaviour can impact upon not only the boys, but also one another

    7. When explaining something to the children, do so in an age appropriate manner. Avoid inflammatory language or point scoring. They need to be able to manage the boys’ anxieties and expectations

    8. If Jane and Ed decline mediation, they should subscribe to some kind of mutually agreed ‘Code of Conduct’ which holds the needs and best interests of the children at it’s heart

    9. Jane and Ed need to agree on some shared values, goals and boundaries; not only for themselves but also for the children. What is important to them? What do they value?

    10. Devise a plan, one that can be revisited and re-evaluated. Keep it real!

    • Where they are we now?
    • Where they want to be?
    • How they’re going to get there?

    11. All three adults must want to make it work and enter into agreements or discussions in the right ‘spirit’ with transparency and integrity

    12. Reassure all three children that they are loved and they can speak honestly and openly without feeling guilty

    13. Jane must engage with the school and place the needs of her son above those of herself. Right now, she’s part of the problem and needs to become part of the solution

    14. Perhaps in time, Jane and Naomi can meet on neutral territory and even with a mediator if need be. If Naomi is to remain part of Ed’s life, it would help the children if they could be civil

    15. Jane might like to think about some counselling

    16. Common sense and compromise will go a long way!

  2. MICK proctor says:

    THE FOUR MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY NEED TO GO TO FAMILY THERAPY.

  3. Jessica says:

    Analysis

    In a relationship where throughout it has been accepted and common place for both parties to have numerous affairs, both of them must surely have realised that it was only a matter of time before once of them would fall in love with the person that was originally just meant to be a bit of fun, and that if this happened the spouse would stand no chance of contending with the excitement and glitter of the forbidden fruit.

    It is often said that the qualities we hate in other people are those we fear most in ourselves. Perhaps Jane herself was tempted in such a way, and now feels doubly resentful of Ed. Either way, whilst her actions are perfectly understandable, they are being taken to the extreme here and are damaging the children. This cannot be accepted and would be frowned upon by a Court if she continues to spiral out of control. Jane will want her emotions to be recognised by Ed and validated with an apology, but apparently Ed is incapable of doing this – his emails have not prompted a favourable response and may to an extent have impounded the situation. So long as Ed cannot repair the situation himself, he should be advised against engaging with Jane at all, to avoid his inadvertently making it worse.

    Ed’s relationship with Naomi is something that he will have to negotiate separately, which will include both him and Naomi recognising the real aspects of having a relationship, which come with compromise, emotional baggage and children, none of which are easy to negotiate! His relationship with Jane may be beyond repair, it certainly sounds like there is little way back from the hurt they have now got into the habit of inflicting and the selfishness that each of them have displayed. Similarly, it would be very confusing for the children after all this for the parents to kiss and make up. All parties need some space from each other at this point.

    The children here are the primary concern, and whilst Betsy is clearly a person who will be important to Ed, and he will have to determine how he and Betsy will communicate and how their relationship can work. However, at this stage, Betsy has the advantage of not being caught in the middle of two parents looking to get revenge or wreck havoc upon the other. Naomi can therefore look after Betsy and champion her best interests whilst we focus on Charlie and Sam.

    The best interests of Charlie and Sam will be the forefront consideration for any Court – should this situation continue in such a way that a Court’s input is required. The welfare checklist will be used to gauge which parent is best capable of looking after them, and whilst doubtless any judge would be sympathetic to Jane, they may be concerned by the animosity she is showing and how her emotions are governing her to such an extent, and whether this will continue to prevent her functioning. Whilst going to Court should not be a course of action that Ed or his legal team shy away from, other avenues should be explored first to try and make progress.

    Whilst if this is a privately paying matter mediation will not be compulsory before the parties attend Court, the Judge would still want to see evidence of Ed and Jane making some attempt to negotiate and if they chose not to attend mediation, they may need to explain this decision with good justification. Mediation would allow both parties to air their concerns in a neutral environment and may shed light on a way forward. Apart from the practical benefits that may result and communications being rebuilt, should the matter ever reach Court, it would look better if Ed had made attempts to meet Jane halfway and offer negotiation/ mediation, refusing to engage in petty games and behaving in a constructive and grown up way, and therefore I would recommend that he consider it seriously and make the necessary referral.

    Obviously, Jane may need practical help in the form of counselling about how to handle her emotions and build the tools to enable her to recognise them and not let them dominate her. However, she is not going to react favourably to this suggestion if made by Ed and is to an extent, a course of action she needs to decide to take on her own.

    Counselling for the boys would definitely be worth exploring as they have a lot of emotions to deal with that they have been blindsided with and clearly are not old enough or experienced in how to manage the emotions they are feeling and the conflict they will be experiencing. However, now that both of the boys have been exposed to these adult themes, it would be insulting to treat them as children and Ed will have to tread carefully. He will have to acknowledge that he is responsible for this situation (Jane is definitely not helping and is making the situation infinitely worse, but it was Ed’s actions that were the catalyst here) and apologise to them for their being caught in the cross fire. They will need reassuring but tactfully steering towards having some counselling. They will be more accepting of this and reassured if they see their parents going to mediation and it is explained that this is similarly a way of giving their mum and dad the tools to help the family. Children are very forgiving and resilient, but it is evident that they are struggling and Ed needs to act quickly. The additional problem is that other people are noticing that the children are going through difficulties, and unless the situation is going to get worse, Jane and Ed have to set aside their differences and try and help the children, otherwise they could both face losing them. They need to be made to feel safe again.

    Practical manoeuvres

    Write a letter to Jane’s solicitors. It will be passed to her of course, but will allow some emotional distance from Ed trying to contact her, and should be observed and respected.

    In this letter, emphasis that the breakdown of the marriage is unfortunate and is not a decision Ed took lightly, that he wants to resolve things amicably where possible. He recognises that Jane has been a good mother, but is concerned over how the situation is developing, and is particularly worried about his sons. Reiterate that as Charlie and Sam’s father he will naturally want what is best for them and will continue to have a relationship with them and be part of their lives. To that end, Jane will have to accept that Ed and her will still have to be part of each others lives and that they will need to find a way to communicate civilly to each other. Mediation is thus suggested as a way forward and would be something Ed will be looking into (Jane will have lost all trust in Ed now, and introducing the idea of mediation before she gets the referral and willingness test will give her chance to consider the idea and let her know it is coming).

    It is a good idea for the children to be taken away on a break to get away from everything, but Ed is obviously concerned about what he has been told might be a permanent move. Could Jane clarify her intentions? Ed would be supportive of her having a temporary break with the children, however, it might instead be worth thinking about them taking a holiday with their grandparents or a trusted third party who will give them the necessary break and would also give Jane some time to relax herself. Whether they are in God‘s own county, or London, or anywhere in the world, if Jane carries her sorrows with her, they will not be happy. This needs to be resolved.

    If Jane does decide to take the children away on holiday, Ed will want some sort of confirmation that Jane will refrain from casting aspersions upon him and he will also want her to facilitate his having indirect contact with the children, such a telephone call each evening at an agreed time on a mobile phone he will arrange for the children to have which will be kept fully charged and with enough money on that they can contact him if they want to. Additionally, Ed will need a copy of the address of the accommodation his family will be staying at.

    If necessary Ed will be prepared to go to Court as Jane has suggested, however at the moment he still hopes that they can avoid this and come to an agreement.

  4. Elizabeth Smith says:

    I think they need to sit down with a neutral person who will make them listen to each other, properly and fully, to each other then point out exactly what this is doing to the kids. The one thing that ties them together, and will always do, is they want their children to be happy – they aren’t. Blaming and accusing isn’t going to help them.
    Ed was rather naive in thinking that divorce would be amicable and cheap, Jane naive if she thinks the boys are going to believe that this is all the fault of their father. They aren’t stupid, they will have noticed undercurrents for years and at a time when they will shortly be thinking of having relationships themselves you’re not exactly setting a good example.
    I think Ed may have to go along with the plans for this Christmas. Everything has changed. You will need to create new ways of doing things like Christmas, birthdays etc and you won’t please everyone, sorry. For goodness sake don’t ask your children to chose between you.
    Lay off the emails – they are often sent in haste and the content of the most innocuous email can come over rather harshly. If you talk to each other then write by letter and don’t post it for 48 hours. If you must stick to email then I suggest to the same delay and preferably have someone else run their eyes over it first.
    The best Christmas present these lads could get is both of their parents sitting down with them, admitting that everything is a mess, there is a lot of anger around,mistakes have been made but none of it’s their fault and that even though they no longer live together their parents are committed to working things out.Whatever, both parents are available to them whenever, whatever and in the way the boys find easiest – face-to-face, text, facebook, ‘phone.
    I hope they go to mediation of some sort and later in the process, because the boys are coming up to their teens I think it would be useful for them to have a session and work out what they will do if the resolve slips – because right now they must feel like everything is out of their control. A simple “Mum/Dad I love you both and I’m not going to listen to this” and walking out of the room will teach them a lot about conflict and communication and should stop the situation spiralling out of control again. It depends on the boys and their maturity.

  5. DT in Cheshire says:

    Jessica

    You say in your 5th paragraph “…….and whilst doubtless any judge would be sympathetic to Jane…….”. I am interested as to why you think this would be so.

    You’re absolutely right, Yorkshire is God’s country; I miss it!

  6. Robyn H says:

    From the child’s perspective – I was told by my dad that he was leaving just before I sat my GCSEs and he hadn’t told mum that he’d told me. The next morning, both parents were actiing ‘normal’ so I though i’d dreamt it! My younger sister (who would have been 13 when she was told) refused to speak to or acknowledge dad for 2-3 years. My mum was hurt a great deal by dad as he told her things like ‘the birth put me off, I’ve been thinking about leaving for the past 10 years, I don’t love you anymore’ (this was as he stepped back when mum went to give him a hug). We were told all this by mum which turned us against dad to an extent and is what Jane has done in this scenario. It’s only now (5 years down the line) that my relationship is good again with dad as is my sisters. Mum and Dad have both moved on and found new partners and I can see that they are a lot happier with their lives so the fact that they’re divorced really doesn’t bother me. It has taken a lot of talking to neutral people and upset to get to this stage. Both of the new partners have 2 children each but they are older and separation had happened a while ago between their parents so it didn’t affect them as far as I know. Mum and Dad are now on civil terms but they weren’t good at talking in the beginning, dad wrote letters which weren’t very well received to be honest. I felt sorry for dad because I could see that he was trying but mum was having none of it. It sorted itself out for my family and by talking rationally (not blaming each other or digging up the past) using neutral people this family could sort it out too. I grew up very fast when it happened to me which is what you can see happening to the children here, they need support and love from both of their parents, their family and each other to get through this.

  7. Linda Guest says:

    This is an appalling, and quite common, situation. The mother is using the children as a means to ‘get her own back’ on the husband. The husband cannot see why he should lose contact with his children because he left his wife. This will escalate and the children will suffer as a result of it. In my experience these situations are difficult to bring to an amicable conclusion and in many cases the family drift apart and the father loses contact with the children.

    I would: ask the mother to go into counselling as a third party is more likely to be able to talk through the situation with her. I would work with her to put forward a plan that would take her feelings into consideration but also include those of the children. Probably start with limited access for the husband. It is imperative that she understands the damage her current line is doing to her children. She needs to take their thoughts into consideration. Things will not change overnight but I would work with her to overcome her anger (which is born of fear and grief as she has lost her old way of life and is worried about her future). I would ask her what she wants and then work with her to modify her needs in order to meet her ex-husband halfway. I would also suggest that she tries to find her own life again. Takes up hobbies and joins in with activities or gets a part time job in an area she will enjoy (even if it’s voluntary).

    I would recommend a similar path for the husband. Starting with talking through his financial worries and working out a reasonable plan for the future that will take into account the needs of his children and himself and his new partner. I would also want him to consider his ex-wife’s feelings as well as those of his current partner as the stress on both women is immense in these situations. He needs to work out what he wants from the future then be prepared to give a little in order to move forward. Maybe he can start with individual visits and allow time to pass before his new partner spends time with his children.

    I would ask the school to appoint a mentor for the children, preferably an older child who has had a similar background, and an adult advocate to talk through their worries and reassure them. It must be made clear to them that the father has not abandoned them but has moved out of the family home.

    There is no ‘quick fix’ for this family but they need to start getting help as individuals before they can come together and work out a plan for the future. The truth is that families rarely break up amicably but need to work towards a solution that will not have too great an impact on the mental and financial welfare of all of them, but particularly the children, in the long term .

  8. Margaret says:

    Both parents need to stop using the children as weapons, and ideally they would all sit with a therapist but as this is highly unlikely both parents should seek divorce counselling. Even if this occurs individually they both need to see the harm that is coming to their children. Both parents need to recognise they are all going through a grieving process and though it may take time with help it will get better for everyone. It might be the end of the marriage, but there will always be a relationship because of the children.

  9. June Jowers says:

    I’m just wondering who are the children here. Both Ed and Jane seem to have their own agendas re hurting each other and totally ignoring the harm they are doing to Charlie and Sam. I agree that the situation has gone too far for reconciliation. Too much has been said and done.

    Ed needs to wake up to the fact that walking out on a marriage doesn’t come easy. He should also stop trying to turn Naomi into Charlie and Sam’s mother. They have one. She is called Jane. As to the threat of moving back to Yorkshire, it’s in England not some country thousands of miles away.

    Jane needs to realise that bitterness only hurts herself and those immediately around her. Using the children to vent her anger against Ed is very wrong. Both children love their father and they should not be used as weapons.

    Both need to take time out and think of their sons.

    Charlie and Sam are the important ones in this. Both have suffered over the breakup. They will need help to come to terms with the situation. Ed and Jane need to agree to a civilised relationship if an amicable one is too much. This will have to include Naomi and Betsy on Jane’s part if Ed remarries.

    They need to show that both children are still loved even though mum and dad are now living apart. This will require all four sitting down together and for Ed and Jane to answer truthfully any questions put to them and to face up to any accusations thrown at them.

    Both Charlie and Sam are old enough to decide who they want to live with. Whatever the outcome both Ed and Jane should make sure Charlie and Sam see the ‘absent’ parent regularly as well as keeping in touch.

  10. Carol Wright says:

    What a terribly difficult situation for all involved. I believe that solving the major issues will mean some serious compromise and some good honest communication however I’m not sure how feasible this would be to achieve. Ed’s actions were wrong with regards to how he introduced Naomi to his children ‘on the sly’ before he had even told Jane that he wanted out of their marriage. This on top of the fact that he is leaving the family (which the children perceive as abandonment) will have contributed to destroying the trust he has with them.

    I don’t see a way forward in this situation without professional support, specifically mediation. Jane is feeling deeply hurt and shocked, the world has changed dramatically and she probably still loves Ed. Ed had much longer to come to the terms that their marriage would end which puts him on a stronger footing. I understand Jane’s distress but it is wrong to put so much pressure on their children, particularly Charlie. Charlie is still a boy and to refer to him as the “man of the house” is wildly inappropriate for a boy his age. Jane needs to seek some counselling to deal with her feelings and I think they should all attend family counselling together (though possibly at a slightly later stage). The boys themselves need some support as they will be feeling very hurt and insecure which will explain their behavioural changes. It is terribly unfair of Jane to tell them that they may lose their home as this will be one of the last bits of security they have left. It is also unfair of Jane to discuss moving away at such an early stage after the marriage breakup. The boys need to repair their relationship with their father or at least start to build bridges and ripping them away from all things familiar will not solve these issues. Above all the boys must be reassured that they are loved by both their parents, that the breakup is not their fault and things will be ok again.

    In conclusion I see no way forward unless both parties are willing to compromise (particularly Jane) and I also think professional advice is essential as this situation has escalated and communication is virtually nil, made through solicitors or openly hostile.

  11. Laura Carroll says:

    It’s not difficult to see why Jane is so hurt, and it’s understandable that having lost her husband, she is trying to keep her children as close to her as possible. However as hard as it is, she needs to remember that she is the adult. In these situations children of these ages need to be kept out of all but the most basic details and both parents should be trying not to influence them against the other. The breakdown of their family is hard enough without them feeling forced to take sides. Jane should turn to an adult friend or family member to unburden herself, or if none are available then a therapist should be sought (which may be advisable anyway). Ed should not start to take part in the ‘game’ by revealing his wife’s infidelities, but should keep trying to communicate with his sons and emphasise that both their parents love them and do not want to make them choose between them. The children are old enough to soon realise the games that are being played and they will appreciate their father’s attempts to not join in.

    At the end of the day, Ed is leaving and will have to take responsibility for the hurt he has caused Jane, and if possible should try to remain civil and not react to her bitterness. He should also leave Naomi out of things for the present rather than trying to build a relationship between her and the children, as it is too soon and they should be allowed to adjust to the divorce first.

  12. Jessica says:

    DT

    It would be hard for anyone not to sympathise with Jane in such a situation, and the Judge would understand that she has been put in a difficult position, having to balance her own feelings with taking care of her sons. However this would not excuse the fact that she is falling short of acting in the boys best interests and her actions are detrimental to their welfare. A period of adjustment for all the family members is only to be expected, but Jane needs to start thinking practically – point scoring will no doubt be tempting for her, but in reality will achieve little and will only continue to hurt the children.

    I am somewhat biased towards Yorkshire ( Yorkshire lass born and bred!) but taking advantage of a couple of days off over Christmas to walk in the dales only affirms how lucky we are to have such breathtaking scenery so nearby. If Jane was looking for a place for some peace she couldn’t find a much better one!

  13. DT in Cheshire says:

    Hi Jessica and thank you for responding to my question.

    I disagree. I think that a Judge would have to adopt a wholly pragmatic view and do her/his utmost to circumnavigate sentiment in any way, shape or form.

    Indeed, I think that a Judge would take a very dim view of Jane’s conduct; (that’s not to say that Ed’s conduct has been exemplary by any means); however, if one is to move this matter forward, then I think parental sympathy may be minimal.

    If this matter ended up in Court, which, as I previously posted would be best avoided for a whole plethora of reasons, I think that Jane may receive a rude awakening!

    I too am Yorkshire born and bread, so I whole-heartedly embrace your Pro-Yorkshire stance!

  14. NELL JONES says:

    Occassional affairs & open style marriages don’t work in loving relationships, and only indicate deeper problems.
    That was the stage when they should have sought therapy. Considering that Ed cannot accept Betsy as his own child indicates that he is not fully committed to Niomi … if he loved her, he would love her child, too. This is trouble brewing, because eventually Niomi will resent this, and suspect, rightly, that the reason he can’t commit to the child, is he knows he is not in the relationship for the long haul and feels guilty. The reason he is not committed to Niomi is that he is still in love with his wife & children. There is still a lot of potential for his marriage to be ressurrected, as they are still angry & upset …oddly, this means there is still love there. It is only when there is in-difference that all hope has perished. Hence, telling his ex wife how he feels would be the first move … actually, no, telling Niomi that he still loves his wife should be his first move … literally, out of her life. This seems cruel, but, it is the fairest thing … Niomi deserves someone who will be 100% committed to her, and that means to to her child, too.

  15. Jessica says:

    Evening DT –
    I think you may have misunderstood my intended meaning, having read over the comment again it is ambiguous and I apologise for any confusion. I did not mean that the Judge was bound to make any Orders or Judgments in Jane’s favour, indeed, from the way she has been behaving it may well be that Ed is in a better position to meet the children’s needs and the welfare checklist. If any Judgment is made in Jane’s favour, it may well be alongside some robust suggestions which would leave Jane in no uncertainty that she must start prioritising the children!
    A Judge would absolutely take an entirely neutral stance, evaluating both parents purely on the basis of their merit. Although a Judge may well feel some degree of sympathy for Jane who is clearly struggling to cope in what others have noted is an unfortunate scenario, despite then going on to apply the law “free from desire” (also quoted as “passion” – Aristotle). Such empathy should not influence their judgment.
    I entirely agree that both parties’ behaviour has left a lot to be desired and that should this problem ever get to Court, a Judge will take a dispassionate view. However, in applying the law, Judges must deploy a level of tact and sensitivity if we are to have a justice system with accessible decisions that the public can trust and respect, rather than laws being simply imposed and thus resented.
    As you rightly point out, emotion is not conducive to resolving legal problems, and it is naturally one of the benefits of instructing a solicitor as someone who is emotionally distanced from the situation. Logic and good reason must prevail. However, one of the most compelling reasons I found to study law was to attempt to help people, recognising the difficulties of a demanding situation and the impact this is having on all parties to find a path through it. I would therefore suggest that lawyers need the capacity to be compassionate but not to be governed by that compassion.
    Whilst Jane’s emotions are not immediately part of our problem as Ed’s solicitors, they are worth keeping in mind as they will colour her reactions and responses.
    Also agreed that avoiding Court would be best if possible, although with such a team behind Ed as have commented on this article, he would have some strong points championing his cause if it does!

  16. DT in Cheshire says:

    ‘Evening Jessica

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to clarify your point.

  17. Jessica says:

    You’re very welcome DT, it was fun having a such discussion to engage with! Always good finding interesing people to make me think.

  18. Announcing the Christmas Competition winner: Let it snow? - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] the festive period I gave you a fictional scenario to think over. I described a family struggling to deal with divorce, and asked what advice you […]

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