If you’re reduced to making threats, then you’re losing the argument

Family Law|August 17th 2016

It’s a sad reality about being a family lawyer that during your career you are likely to receive threats, and sometimes worse, from those who don’t like what you are doing. We’ve all, for example, experienced or heard of cases of lawyers acting for wives or mothers receiving threats from irate husbands or fathers (and I suspect that the problem may be getting worse, with so many parties to family cases no longer being represented). It certainly happened to me. And sometimes it can be more subtle, like the husband who replied to one of my letters by writing to my home address, in a clear demonstration of “I know where you are”.

I gave up practising seven years ago, but unfortunately actually acting for the other party in a case is not a prerequisite to being the recipient of a threat. It is enough that you merely say something that the ‘threatener’ doesn’t like. And, sadly, when you write about family law it seems that in the eyes of some you are making yourself fair game for threats and abuse. I have experienced it on more than one occasion since I have been writing about family law.

The latest incident happened to me just last week, after I wrote a post here giving my views on the manifesto of New Fathers 4 Justice, the group who recently staged a protest on Jeremy Corbyn’s rooftop. Unfortunately, it seems that, rather like in some Orwellian state, giving a contrary view is not allowed so far as some fathers’ rights supporters are concerned. I received a tweet, in response to my post, that referred to Donald Trump’s recent speech which was interpreted by many as an incitement to gun owners to assassinate Hillary Clinton should she become President. The tweet was a thinly veiled threat that the same fate might befall me as Mrs Clinton, because of my “attack on New Fathers 4 Justice and their efforts for equal parenting rights”.

Now, of course my post was not an “attack” on anyone. It was simply an expression of my view on the stated goals of New Fathers 4 Justice. We’re all entitled to a view, aren’t we? After all, Marilyn Stowe very kindly allows anyone to comment upon anything said in this blog, and plenty of people have taken the opportunity to give their opposing views on my post. Marilyn herself takes a different view from myself on the issue of shared parenting. But that’s not a problem – reasoned and reasonable debate is to be welcomed.

OK, I know that family law issues can be extremely emotive, especially when they relate to children. People can get very worked up, whether they are actually involved in a family case, or whether they are just expressing strongly held views on the subject. However, threats are not permissible. The lawyer is only doing their job and the writer is only stating their opinion.

But there is more to it than that. It is a hackneyed thing to say, but if you’re reduced to making threats then that is a sure sign that you are losing the argument. After all, if you think you have a strong argument, why resort to making threats? You have no need to silence those who take a different view – in a reasonable debate, your argument will win the day.

And if you are involved in a family case you may also be losing the argument in a different sense. Think about it: you are a father seeking an order that your child live with you. What family court judge would think it a good idea to place a child in the care of someone who threatens others?

And as for those who are just arguing for change, I’m not complacent about the family justice system. I don’t think it’s perfect. I therefore welcome debate. All I ask is that we keep it civilised.

Photo by Seth Sawyers via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Pushy says:

    I can place my finger upon the perpetrator. A self absorbed person whom does have a following? How, I am very unsure.

    To place other caring parents within your remit, mercy ?

    Another fathers rights let down.

    It’s why the progress is so slow.

    Now it places all the small pieces together.

    It’s very wrong that you were threatened John, but, you can come across as slightly condescending ?

    Just saying.

  2. Anon says:

    John, I received abuse and a threat from a female connected to them.
    I suggested to one of the roof top campaigners that maybe contacting someone such as David Lammy MP could be a better way forward.
    I had clearly been discussed by a roof top campaigner to their ‘female partner’ as I was later sent an abusive message on Facebook pm (from the ‘female partner’), read the message and blocked it only to later receive a threat by someone else connected to them or their alias profile.
    It now doesn’t surprise me why this person lost their child/ren.

  3. Andy says:

    As all this ever intended to be..It’s just a game but played in real terms…
    As this and social media are now part of life as we all know the key to create hatred, abuse and child like actions but without fighting in the physical sense of the word we now evolved now commonly known as KEYBOARD WARRIORS.
    Have not got the guts to be face to face but hide behind host accounts.
    Funny thing is people have not got time and patient’s so with the ever increasing anger,stress and frustrationas they say “you can’t have a laugh any more” is now so true….

    To be blunt,yes the bloody system is wrong and fathers are underrepresented as they want equality ..what equality,so why invoke your view to such a volatile audience when you know there will be fallout…
    Lesson learn John…
    As ONCE a practicing practitioner you should know better…

  4. Stitchedup says:

    “It now doesn’t surprise me why this person lost their child/ren.”
    Excuse me… What are you saying?? Cross me and I’ll have your children taken away!!?? Who are you?? Some politician from the loony left that has contacts in CAFCAS?? Perhaps you’re big buddies of Kier ( i’m a raving loony feminist ) Starmer?? Perhaps you should elaborate on the content of the email before you see fit to make comments of that nature. Without elaboration it would be fair to assume that you’re a fully signed-up member of the man hating, oversensitive, loony left, politically correct victimhood.

  5. Anon says:

    John, I agree with you, ” What family court judge would think it a good idea to place a child in the care with someone who threatens others.”

  6. Spinner says:

    John I would of though this would be fairly obvious but you can privately hold any view you like but as soon as you tell anyone or more importantly legally transmit it over a social network or blog as you do then you can expect any and all types of feed back. If you don’t like that then freely hold your opinions but keep them to yourself.

  7. Jo Archer says:

    I’m going to put my head above the parapet, so just stop to think before you shoot it off.

    John has a right to express his views without being theatened. I don’t always agree with them but I deplore what has happened. Might DOES NOT make right! And no matter what your experiences are in life, you have no excuse to bully anyone.

    The system always needs changing, and I believe that some of the frustration that people feel is a natural response to the bewilderment that we all can feel when we aren’t being heard. Please continue to campaign for real, practical changes that affect you but ranting will not help anyone’s cause. Calm, rational argument might.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Jo
      Very well said and many thanks. Its appreciated. Bullying and threats do no one any credit. Its an emotive subject and arouses hostility but in this forum all views are welcome provided the comments are not personally offensive.

      • Stitchedup says:

        I think we all agree that, in principle, it’s not wise to threaten people. However, there are threats and there are idle threats. Threats come in all shapes, sizes and flavours, and some are not, in reality, threats at all. Perhaps, as in the case of Mr Bolch, the alleged perpetrator may claim it was a misunderstood comment or simply a piece of black humour. I have not seen the threats that John and Anon claim to have received, so I only have their word for its existence and the severity they claim. I can only assume for Anon that it was something akin to a fatwa to feel it justified that the alleged perpetrators should loose their children.

  8. Stitchedup says:


    Was this a threat John??

  9. Anon says:

    Many thanks Jo and Marilyn.

  10. D says:

    What would concern is me is yes the person resorting to threats is losing the argument and effectively at the same time removing themselves from it. At that point they are one individual, a minority not part of the argument. They should be dealt with properly (i.e treat a criminal threat as that).
    But they have no wider place in any discussion and in that sense ignored for the debate. I know I wouldn’t want to be seen to use the extreme reactions of such an individual acting against me to bolster my argument. They are not part of whatever side I see as opposing me. To do so is loosing the argument as well in a different way.

  11. Sylvia says:

    Fathers 4 Justice do themselves no favours.They come across as hostile and offensive towards the mother,rather than rationally arguing their case for the best interest of the child on their Facebook page.
    Child cases are always going to be emotive and sometimes raise debate but if parents can’t argue their case in a dignified and civilised manner they are not portraying themselves as responsible and rational parents.To send threats to someone whose opinions they disagree with is evidence of a very unstable mental state.

  12. Nick Langford says:

    I would disagree slightly, John. Resorting to threats does not show that you have necessarily lost the argument, merely that you are incapable of making it. There are very strong arguments for shared parenting and very strong evidence to back those arguments, but you have to be aware of the arguments and be able to express them and you have to know where to go for the evidence and know how to use it (you also need to be able to identify the weaknesses in the arguments raised against you).
    As many of the comments here (which read like the poorly-translated instruction manuals for cheap Chinese imports) amply demonstrate, many in the fathers’ fights movement struggle to express themselves. That doesn’t make them wrong, it merely makes them unable to get their point across and leaves them at the mercy of more able wordsmiths such as yourself.
    I deplore the threats and bullying behaviour, and I deplore the tactics of F4J which are to encourage others to threaten and bully and take the consequences, while hiding behind the pretence that they cannot be responsible for the behaviour of their supporters. It is why I left and will have nothing further to do with them.
    What is most deplorable about F4J was that they once had the resources to make the arguments and the potential to be an effective lobbying machine, but they chose bullying and intimidation instead, thereby doing immense and possibly irreparable damage to the shared parenting cause.

  13. Nick Langford says:

    Was Anon’s reply to my comment removed? For the record, I only left FNF (in around 2003) because there was no local group in my area and there was an F4J group. Now there is an FNF group. I didn’t give up on my case but I did exhaust all the legal options, and contact which had been lost in 2002 was finally restored in 2010 (and continues). I didn’t leave F4J until 2012, long after all the sensible people had left.

  14. Luke says:

    Frankly to a large extent John needs to stop being a ‘special snowflake’ and suck it up. He posts articles on a public forum and frankly in my view deserves some pretty robust responses based on what he writes.
    Unless the person doxxes you (reveals personal details) or makes a specific threat (then I think you should take it on the chin – free speech is too important to lose. If they do make specific threats it is a Police matter and that’s what John should have done in that case he talks of if he felt threatened.
    Here is part of a post replying to me and approved on these boards by the moderator:
    ” …so do us all a favour and do some research or go and fuck yourself before someone like me who has paid tax all my life and who’s grand parents died in the war for this shit hole of a country yet is being forced out of his own country after being extorted for thousands just to be with my family, comes and kills you!!!!!, stupid fucking Cunt !!!!”
    Just like John I have strong views and like most articles here the subject was emotive, so as the threat was not specific I think the moderator was right to publish it and I’m OK with it – the only caveat I have is that if this was said about a Judge in my experience it would probably not have been approved – but then I can understand people in the legal profession wanting to protect their careers and generally this is an excellent forum when it comes to free speech 🙂
    Note: If you think fathers’ rights supporters are rough, you try p**sing off a bunch of 3rd wave feminists 🙂

    • Stitchedup says:

      An example of what happens when you piss a feminist off:

      “Erin Pizzey is the woman who started the first domestic violence shelter in the United Kingdom in 1971. She was concerned about family violence and decided to do something about it. To her surprise, the majority of the women who came to her shelter told tales not only of violent mates, but of their own violence. Her eyes opened, Pizzey declared that to help female victims of abuse, we had to help them learn to refrain from abusing their partners. That simple realization directly contradicted the political views of the budding domestic violence movement and Pizzey was summarily shown the door. Her life was threatened, her dog was killed and she made straight for the United States. That was the birth of the movement that today is seeking half a billion dollars from the United States Treasury to continue doing what it’s always done – pretending that women aren’t abusers and don’t need help except as victims of men’s abuse. Given that false premise, it should come as no surprise that, almost 20 years since its passage, the Violence Against Women Act shows no evidence whatsoever of reducing rates of DV.”

      • JamesB says:

        ‘Note: If you think fathers’ rights supporters are rough, you try p**sing off a bunch of 3rd wave feminists’

        Yes, been there, done that and their pussy-whipped male partners. “I fucking hate you” is usually the intellectual response they give.

        Anyway, A point on this, to give left wing do gooding feminists credit. I have at least three first hand accounts of educated neo liberal feminists following university and LGBT clubs and all that nonsense going into special needs education to support educating girls in the classroom, only to find it is the boys in the classroom who need their support. Go give them credit, they have each risen to that and told me that story under bated breath. In the same way as other women in their thirties have told me how they regret pushing for a career at the expense of their relationships. So, there is hope.

        To give her credit, and the jury is still out, hope she abolishes the Grammar proposals, even Theresa May has admitted the biggest at risk group in society needing most support in education and with work and protection from violence is white working class boys.

  15. JamesB says:

    p.s. If I am not allowed to say pussy-whipped then put in hen-pecked, but I meant pussy whipped with nag rash and often physically emotionally and psychologically and financially abused and bullied too.

  16. JamesB says:

    Add to that the familiar threat of taking all the money and not allowing to see children upon danger of separation, there are some bad abusive relationships out there that need work. MF and FM and MM and FF.

  17. D says:

    Basically the original article is just an example of ‘nutpicking’; it is effective at generating comments (that might be better placed elsewhere) and traffic though.

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