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Trying to make sense of the missing mum

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 The idea of ‘custody’ is outdated in England and Wales.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.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    “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.”

    That’s been determined; it must now be carried out. You don’t get a reconsideration by committing a serious contempt of court.

  2. Margaret Reid says:

    I am a firm believer in the child having contact with both parents. This is proven to be in the best interests of the child. This lady additionally made false allegations against the father that were not proven in court. Granted we are only privy to certain facts of the case but apparently she was also given several opportunities to work together with her ex in order to obtain contact but did not allow this to happen. She then was ordered by the court to ensure contact occurred. When she then dismissed the judgement the Judge then ruled that custody should be transferred to the father. I can totally relate to how she felt but to then stupidly in my opinion decide that she would ignore everyone. I accept that she would have been in a state but aware that she knows that she will be in trouble. I fear she doesn’t know quite how much trouble she really is in. I do sympathise with the mother but I also appreciate and sympathise with the poor father who at the end of the day, all he wanted was to see his son. In the child’s best interest, she should put her son first instead of herself and do the right thing by returning with the child and beg mercy from the court and begin to understand her son does not belong to her despite giving birth to him. He is not a bargaining tool he is a child and has two loving parents x

  3. ann says:

    Sorry…i also have not faith in family court system sadly. Ithey do not act in the best interest of the child in many cases. When i use to read stories about about the family court system i use to think …lies. untill i was in it and accused of all sorts….none of which were true. I realized that unlike the reported stories that courts were all inunfairly bias towards the mothers was completely wrong wrong….truth being the complete different. As a mother you are not heard…and if your what. I was totally shocked how professional bodies such as Cafcass report things you jaave not in fact said…and are so concerned about the child they try to fob you off witb a phone interview. I had two Cafcass officers….both wrote reoorts giving completely different statements to what i infact said. The story of Rebbecca portrays a very one sided view….i do hope she is given the freedom to tell her side of the story. If you are a victim of DV the abuser will try every tactic to hurt you…what better way than through a child you adore. Did this girl Rebecca have legal representation? Or like many women was she thrown into a court situation with no insight into how tje system works….. Legal Aid cuts in itself a human right breach. My child was 5 when i was taken to court…his father wanted nothing to do with tje child. Only that he did not wish to pay towards keep….he swore on his childs life that he would ruien my life if i did not cancel forced payments. He walked into court not knowing his child. Even tjough i prooved all of what jad happened he walked out with PR ovetnight stays and all times worked around his busy social life….and i have to face this abusive man to hand over my child. He showed no responsibility to his child but has just as much say as i who has been there since birth. The judge in Rebeccas case has truly undermined her as the mother….how can any judge make such a wrong move as to take a child away from its mother. This child needs to be returned even if sharef care is granted. I wondet how many more women will be having the children they carried taken away since the removal of legal aid and in yjename best interest of the child. I came out of my experience totally shocked of how terrible this system operates. I have met women in contact centres who have sat and shook knowing tjhere abuser was in same building as them. BUT having said that…..i know not everybody ends up in family courts, some depart on very good terms and manage to co parent…which is in the best interest of everyone.

  4. jade says:

    Are you being serious? I help people on a daily basis fight for their rights as parents. I help people fight social services and fight their private law battles. I also have spent the past 7 years in and out of the family courts. Both against the ss and in private law proceedings. I use my knowledge from studying law on how best to do my research but I can tell you 100% with certainty that the family courts are far from fair. 8/10 times where a parent wishes to include vital evidence judges refuse. Take my own judge. Not the nicest of people by a long shot the way he speaks to families is disgusting. He is all for removal of children and dismissal of important evidence that may prolong the case through examination. Not all judges are like this but I know for a fact the family courts are the hardest court to navigate especially to people with no legal knowledge. I’m fortunate enough to remember the majority of my studies and to be able to apply my own experiences in the family courts to what I learned from the course. Then you have to remember that there is legal aid hurdles. Most private law proceedings are lucky I they get legal aid with the new cuts. This leaves families who haven’t a clue what they are doing to represent themselves in a terrifying environment and it never gets easier. Its disgusting and criminal that a judge can breach a human right to fair trial without providing a good reason. I help families like this on a day to day basis. I don’t charge these people instead I ask them info they tell me straight without prejudice I research their exact issue ensure I’m up to date on the law I follow numerous statutes and acts of parliament to ensure I provide the best info I can. If I feel out of my depth I refer them onto another family advocate who I know can be trusted 100%. There needs to be huge changes made. President sir James munby. President of the family division can see this and he pretty much rules the family courts alongside a few other high court judges why cant the community?

  5. Anon says:

    I do not know the facts of the case and can only speak of my own experiences. The mother should not have run but the presumption that a judge will look at what is in the best interests of a child is, in my experience, just not true. My ex-husband has always had an anger problem and he goes to great lengths to keep it covered up. His family are of the view that that is just who he is and families don’t talk about certain things. The reason he is so volatile is that he uses cannabis and cocaine. He is not an addict but when he comes down he gets paranoid and is VERY volatile. Also, he has a tendency to ask his female companions – many of whom he doesn’t even know that well, to babysit his children. They frequently also take drugs.The extent of drug use is not known but he is well spoken and softly spoken. He does not come across as an angry abuser. He raped me and I went to the police. To deflect he then went to the police to say I had assaulted him, my ex husband was a paedophile who had ‘fiddled’ with his daughter and that I was an alcoholic with mental health problems. At one stage the police et al said that the waters were so muddied, it was difficult to know who was telling the truth. From that point on it seemed that all the agencies had slotted this case into the ‘messy divorce’ category and the courts talked about obstruction of contact when , in fact, all I wanted was for him to know that taking drugs whilst parenting – no matter how casual, was not on and that his anger needed to be addressed. Also, we were both Litigants in Persons and he managed to waste a lot of time at hearings by having the judge explain certain things to him over and over whilst I was too terrified to speak. From the outside it must have looked as though I was uncooperative and he was the victim yet the reality was far from that but nobody could see. One judge at a directions hearing told him that if he hadn’t asked for 50% contact, I would not have cried rape. I stayed silent in court , I was trying to hold back the tears. After 5 months, the police investigation into the rape came back as No Further Action. The police, who were amazing said that they believed me but there just wasn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction and it was better for the case to be NFA than for him to be acquitted. He then complained to the IPCC about how the police handled the investigation and even made a complained about my rape counsellor. We had several different judges and one of them finally called for a fact finding hearing on all of the domestic abuse I had included in my statement which he of course denied. He wanted me to drop the allegations and began bullying me, refusing to include my evidence into the schedule. He even complained to the court that I wanted to submit a bundle! When I complained about intimidation, no one paid any attention because they thought we were just making allegations against each other. the a week before the Fact Finding hearing, I was arrested for harassment. He had doctored one of my email responses to him so that all it showed was me saying he was a rapist. He had cut out the bit that accused my ex husband of being a paedophile which is what prompted my reaction. He then fabricated evidence, letters,texts, even told the police that he had been sacked from work when in fact he never worked there. The investigation took 5 months because he had claimed the harassment started with a false rape allegation. He made a big thing about my arrest during the Fact Finding hearing which took the attention away from his abuse of me. I was too distressed over the whole procedure and the arrest to be able to give evidence on the rape so decided not to. After 3 months the police said there was no evidence that I had harassed – they had fingerprinted, DNA checked and done everything yet they were more prepared to believe that this was just a ‘messy divorce’ than the game plan of an emotional controlling abuser. I got the order I wanted. Sole residency and he gets to see his child. He is not allowed to contact me nor take drugs for 7 days before contact . That took 15 months and nearly 10 court appearances and nearly lost me my sanity. What I do know is that the court, in their desire to promote contact between child and both parents overlook the instances where an emotionally abusive parent uses the argument of contact to perpetuate their abuse of ( in this case) the mother. The courts need greater understanding of this. I was lucky , I have heard worse but I know what it is to feel like you come across as the perpetrator and your perpetrator comes across as a victim. When you are involved with narcissists, there is this expression called ‘crazymaking’ and that is exactly what they do and there needs to be better training to spot insidious abuse and to help vulnerable litigants in persons. This woman should not have gone off with her child and I don’t know the full story. All I know is that I too wanted to run and I had to force myself to sit tight for over a year. When he managed to get me arrested for harassment I came very very close to ending it all. I knew he had dome it as a tactical move to deflect from the abuse listed in the schedule and at that point I thought he had literally beaten me. When she is caught she will face the consequences of her actions but I sincerely hope that this prompts the courts to look beyond what is presented. Things are not always what they seem – especially with emotional abuse.

  6. Anon says:

    i would tell her to run and never return to the UK. The same thing happened to me 5 years ago, I escaped and will never return to the UK. My son would be dead now if he had been left with his father. I had the support of all my family, friends and even members of the fathers family. My son is now 100% safe and happy. If I returned I would never see my child again and would face a jail sentence. I lost custody because the guardian cafcass woman was having a relationship with the father. I had lots of police evidence regarding his violence towards me. He was also violent to his child. The UK family court system is very corrupt, you cannot win. I fought for 8 years and it cost me over £30,000, and so much stress…. I prey she escapes like 1,000’s of others have had to do.

  7. Luke says:

    Andrew is just right here, it would be ridiculous if the court reopened the case because the mother has kidnapped the child – otherwise this will just encourage such a practice.
    The only consideration is whether the mother should get less contact as a result of this abduction – I think in most cases fathers would certainly be punished (I think because culturally the courts feel safer from public scrutiny in punishing men) but that doesn’t make it right and the case should be treated on its merits.

  8. Andrew says:

    She should certainly not have unsupervised access for the foreseeable future – the risk that she will do it again is obvious.

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