This morning I was walking along Gray’s Inn Road towards Stowe Family Law’s London office and enjoying the sunshine. That’s when I received a call from ITV. They wanted to me appear on This Morning to discuss a family law issue which has grabbed headlines nationwide. I was also asked to field questions from viewers on their own struggles with child arrangements.
A mother from Somerset disappeared with her three year-old son after a court ruled that the boy should live with his father.
Unsurprisingly, there have been a myriad of different opinions about this situation but, as I explained to Amanda Holden and Phillip Schofield (who I thought handled a difficult subject extremely well), we do not know all of the facts.
What we do know, however, is that this is a very sad case. The judge will have made a decision with more of the facts than the public has and will have done so with the best interests of the child in mind. That is the guiding principle of the family law system we have. The idea of ‘custody’ is outdated in England and Wales. Judges must decide how much time a child should spend with each parent based on their best interests.
More recently, the law has also included a presumption that the best interests of a child include contact with both parents. This means that any family judge will endeavour to come up with an arrangement where that is possible.
There are also options which do not involve the stress of the courtroom. Primarily, there is mediation. Due to its focus on agreements, a contact arrangement which puts the needs of the child first can be reached in a way that is fair to both parents.
However, agreements cannot always be reached in a calm, rational way. It’s hard for a parent to deal with something as important as their children in such a way. This was demonstrated during the call-in segment when one viewer burst into tears on the phone. Another caller raised a smile when she talked about how she shared the care of her child with her ex-husband despite hating him!
It is absolutely understandable that this mother would be upset at the judge’s decision. No loving parent would welcome the idea of their child being taken away. That said, what she did was over the line. She defied a court order and in doing so put her own feelings ahead of her child’s wellbeing.
Frankly, I think the best course of action this mother can take is to come back, apologise to the judge and work together with the court and the father to determine what arrangements would be in her son’s best interests.
ITV was not the only media outlet looking to make sense of the situation. I was also invited to discuss it on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Northampton and BBC WM 95.6 in Birmingham. Stowe Family Law’s Managing Partner Julian Hawkhead has also been asked to talk about it on Radio London.