Family breakdown is emotive. Of course it is. And it’s quite understandable if, driven by those emotions, one or both of the parties behave less than reasonably towards the other. But the emotive nature of family breakdown does not excuse parties from continuing to behave in an unreasonable fashion towards one another for years after the separation, especially where there are children involved.
These (admittedly unoriginal) thoughts came to me over the weekend when I read the first line of a law report, which went as follows:
“The Appellant … and the Second Respondent … have a son … (N) who is now 15. For most of N’s life his parents have been in litigation about him.”
Now, fifteen years is a particularly long time, but how often have I read similar things in judgments? Here is another example, from a case heard by Mr Justice Cobb in 2015:
“AH has been the subject of almost continuous litigation between her parents for nearly three years.”
With little effort I could find another dozen such examples.
I’m sorry, but I’m getting sick of reading things like this. I know I’ve written here on more than one occasion previously about the phenomenon of continuous litigation (see, for example, here and here), but the damage that such behaviour causes to lives is so great that the issue really needs to be highlighted as often as possible.
And of course such behaviour is not just limited to court proceedings between the parties. The struggle is often extended beyond the courts, for example into social media, the real media, or fathers’ rights groups (Fathers4Justice were involved in the case I read at the weekend), resulting in what can only be described as ‘total war’ against the other party. Unfortunately nowadays the internet gives parties easy access to a wide audience, and many are only too happy to take advantage of this, in the erroneous belief that gathering others to their cause will somehow strengthen their case.
And when I’ve raised this issue previously the automatic response of those who are guilty of such behaviour, or who support such behaviour, is to pass the blame to others, primarily to the family courts, or to the family justice system in general. Never once have I come across anyone who has put up their hands and admitted that it was their fault.
Now, the system may not always be helpful (I am the first to say that it is not perfect), and it may be at fault for providing too many opportunities for parties to perpetuate the struggle. However, the primary blame for this compulsive litigation (and more) must lay squarely at the feet of those who instigate it. Ultimately, it is they who are responsible, and no amount of passing the buck can hide that fact.
I realise that there will be those who read this post with mounting anger at what they see as an attack upon them. However, the purpose of this post is not to ‘have a go’ at anyone, but rather to advise, and above all to discourage this sort of destructive behaviour.
And in case you doubt that this sort of behaviour is destructive, consider how it wastes and blights lives. It wastes the lives not just of those who have to spend years dealing with it, but also of those who spend years continuing the struggle by all available means. It also blights those lives, causing great stress and preventing the parties from moving on. Above all, it causes huge damage to any children who are forced to stand by and watch as their parents pursue a never-ending war against one another. It is also very likely to crystallise the views of the children against one, or even both, of their parents.
So, before you escalate the struggle with your former partner, whether by making yet another application to the court, or by taking it beyond the court, stop and think of the effect of your actions, not just upon the other party but also upon yourself and, above all, on any children involved. Family breakdown may be emotive, but it is not the starting gun for a war against your former partner.
Photo by Phil Whitehouse via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence