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The importance of talking to one another by John Bolch

The short judgment in Re V & Others (Children) neatly demonstrates just how important it is for parents to maintain a dialogue between themselves for the sake of their children, no matter how hard that may be.

In many ways it was a classic case of a breakdown in communication between the parents. They were married in 1998 and there are three children: two boys, S, who is ‘rising 15’ and B who is ‘rising 13’, and one girl, Z, aged 8. The marriage broke down in April 2012 after the mother had, by her own admission, engaged in an extramarital affair. Since then there has been considerable acrimony between the parents, including an incident when the father took the boys with him for a confrontation with the mother’s boyfriend.

In September 2012 the court made an order by consent that the boys live with their father and the girl live with her mother. There was also to be a contact arrangement whereby the children would spend the weekend together, with half being spent with the mother and the other half with the father.

So far, so good. However, the contact arrangement broke down. The father applied for an order that Z come and live with the boys and his new wife, and the mother responded with an application to enforce the contact, at least in respect of her seeing B.

The matter went before Mr Justice Peter Jackson. He interviewed the boys and they made it clear to him that they did not want any contact whatsoever with their mother. They would not speak to their mother, and their parents would not speak to each other. Ironically, the only person who was willing to speak to everybody was the eight year old daughter, Z.

Mr Justice Jackson did not, of course, lay any blame for the situation upon the boys. Instead, he succinctly summed up the matter as follows:

“The abnormal feature of the situation, which these parents must never kid themselves is acceptable, is that they are at the moment unable to speak to each other. That is something that can be explained, but as time passes it is not something that they would be able to excuse themselves for because in effect it dumps their dirty linen on their children with probably lifelong effects on the way in which the children may manage their own relationships. I do not, in any way, minimise the difficulties that existed in this marriage but there must come a time when the parents find a way of living with that and doing their best for these children.”

I think these few words should be recommended reading for all parents who have difficulty communicating with their former partners.

Happily, the parents in this case have acknowledged that something needs to be done about the situation, and they are being informed about the mediation facilities that are available to them. Mr Justice Jackson indicated that he expected that at the head of their agenda for discussion should be “an ability to communicate in a practical manner, avoiding recrimination and gratuitous references to irrelevant grievances”.

He went on:

“I am quite clear that nothing much can change in the arrangements for the children while the relationship between the parents remains in its current shape. Firstly, because I think it unlikely that the boys will feel able to engage at all with their mother until they see their father doing so. Secondly, because I am not prepared to ordain any change in the arrangements for Z that might suck her into the same dynamic.”

I hope that the parents do go ahead with mediation, and that for their sake and the sake of their children they are able to agree a way forward.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. Paul says:

    Would you have wanted to see your mother if she had cheated on your father? I know I would not have wanted to. There is a rational and understandable reason here for the boys’ estrangement and it is for the mother to make amends for her behaviour, rather than two parents having to meet half way.

  2. Luke says:

    Very difficult, but if the 15 & 13 year old will not have anything to do with their mother I don’t see much that can be done. It may (or may not) be the actions of the father that have caused this decision but they are not little kids any more and if they are so adamant I think it should – at least now for now – just be accepted.

  3. JamesB says:

    In answer to Paul’s question above, yes, I would.

    This is about the only post of John’s that has ever made any sense to me.

    Whatever else happens the mother is still the mother and the father is still the father and for any child those two roles are very important as they go to the core of who we really are.

  4. JamesB says:

    p.s. I should clarify. I am speaking as a son to a Mum and Dad who had exactly the scenario you mention Paul and I would not and will not abandon her for that reason. I will admit though that my father doesn’t know I speak to her (well he probably does know but we don’t discuss it).

    People are funny when it comes to using the children to trying to get them on their side. Doing that is child abuse.

    Criticising the other parent to the child is child abuse. It is abusing the child and insulting them, you wouldn’t insult anyone else’s Mother or Father, you should not to your child, that really annoys me that approach as children can’t defend themselves, it is so out of order.

  5. Stitchedup says:

    I agree with James here though I can understand that there will be hurt and a feeling that the adulterous partner has destroyed the family. However, I think it’s better parents talk although you can expect there will be some unpleasant exchanges given the circumstances.

    The thing I find hypocritical here is that it is the courts and the lawyers that are often responsible for stopping parents form talking to each other and escalating bad feeling by issuing non-mols, non-communication orders and restraining orders. Perhaps they should get their own house in order first.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If you are a man, the danger of trying to talk things through is that at some point or another you will get labeled controlling or abusive. That is fact. Far safer to just go straight to court. Skip the nonsense. That’s what chimpanzees in police uniforms would advise, and they are right.

  7. JamesB says:

    You wouldn’t have a go at a friend’s Mum to them, you shouldn’t to your children. I read somewhere, what children would advise adults in divorce. Number one was please advise us to love the other parent. That applies to Mums and Dads to stop trying to kill each other as in doing so you are harming your children and people need to step back, realize that and stop fighting. I suppose this applies in marriage too.

    Wrt to the other points here, lawyers don’t make it easy to talk, as it is not in their (financial) interests to do so. If the parents sort something out between them the lawyers get £0. If they sort it out by lawyers, they get £tens of thousands.

    With regards to the police, I think the criticism is valid. They need not be involved as much as they are. I do blame feminism for the whole mess and raising of women’s expectations though, but I think, with communication a marriage can survive. I think my Mum would rather be with my father than the man she is with, but, especially with lawyers and the police and judges involved, things can get out of hand and unfortunately an unstoppable momentum is achieved.

    My advice, if you are in trouble with your relationship, sort it out (split or stay together) through relate rather than via solicitors, it’s probably the difference between hating each other (and hurting your children badly) or not. I am still trying to heal my children and me and my ex 10 years on from an acrimonious divorce where no one won. We are nearly healed I think and blogging on here has helped. With divorce, you have to be careful to not harm the kids or each other in the process also. Lawyers deal with the legal side and not that side and that is the most important side. If you hurt your ex, you hurt your children and yourself. People need to stop fighting and move on. I accept though where there is not enough money and financial settlement is bad for either side (usually is for the male) that can be hard though.

  8. JamesB says:

    Communication is hard though, especially for us blokes, even harder for younger men. I am getting better at it now I am in my forties, following a lot of lessons in and failures. Trying to teach my kids to communicate better than I was able too.

    I was pleased to learn from my son that they do indeed have relationship classes at school these days, hopefully that is an improvement. He is in year 8.

  9. Stitchedup says:

    “with lawyers and the police and judges involved, things can get out of hand and unfortunately an unstoppable momentum is achieved.” aka no drop policies.

  10. JamesB says:

    Yes, I have been there too stitched. In Berkshire the police call it Positive intervention and you get bailed to avoid your house and ex until you are found innocent (or in my case it gets dropped the day before court). Also, if you want to ask your ex / partner a question, a solicitors letter isn’t really the most efficient way of doing so, indeed it is likely to inflame matters.

    There are not as many men abusers as the system seems to think there are and I think much of this protective stuff is excessive and driving families apart and just giving money to the divorce industry, where marriages (for the sake of society) might otherwise be salvageable, perhaps thru relate in the often difficult years immediately after childbirth for instance.

  11. JamesB says:

    When a lot of relationships and marriages fail. I just hope doesn’t happen to me again after my next child which is due this year, hopefully I have learnt enough to get through it and keep the marriage going, but it is difficult sometimes, especially with children.

  12. Stitchedup says:


    Life, relationships and marriage are not a bed of roses and pose all sorts of challenges. Personally I think the traditional marriage vows try to reflect this and give the heads-up to those going down the road of marriage. Unfortunately, we have Mills and Boon psychologists promoting divorce and separation.

    The stress caused by one partner losing their job or, as in my case, loosing their job and losing their hearing, can cause conflict and arguments and perhaps some shouting, name calling and even allegations such as you’re simply not listening (not listening is domestic abuse/violence), or you’re damaging the hearing of your partner and the children because the TV volume is too high.

    The Police, lawyers or courts have no business intervening in family disputes of this nature and it would be better if the state funded more bodies like Relate to help save marriages and relationships when they are experiencing difficult times; as you say or the sake of society particularly when there are children involved… But…. we have this believe in this country that it is far better to divorce or separate than stay together for the sake of the children. call me cynical, but this is too often used as an excuse by the woman that’s simply not having her dreams met and feels the need to find somebody that’s a better provider. So much for “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
    till death us do part’.

  13. JamesB says:

    Re : we have this believe in this country that it is far better to divorce or separate than stay together for the sake of the children.

    I disagree with the political correctness on this and think it is usually better to stay together for the sake of the children and that the number of divorces is too high.

    The in-laws can be a bit interfering a also. I hope not to encourage my children to divorce if I don’t like their spouses as my ex in-laws did. It should be a last resort, then a lifestyle option, first resort, instant gratification, throw away society kind of thing, especially where there are children involved. All that said it should not be the end of the world. But it can feel like that for a while. Just try and make sure that it isn’t.

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