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.
Photo by Mark Mathosian via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence
John Bolch is a family law blogger