The emotional price paid by children for parental conflict

Children|Divorce|November 20th 2018

I don’t often write a post that is essentially about one single paragraph of a judgment, but this particular paragraph contains an important message that should be heeded by any parents engaged in a heavily contested financial remedies claim.

The case IX v IY concerned a wife’s financial remedies claim. The estimated assets in the case were some £38 million. The claim was heavily contested, and culminated in a seven day hearing before Mr Justice Williams last month. The wife incurred legal costs of some £689,000, and the husband’s costs were some £640,000. Mr Justice Williams said that the chronology of the procedure of the case “makes abundantly clear that the application has been vigorously and bitterly fought at every step of the way, with considerable skirmishing in the foothills prior to battle being joined before me.” This, he said, “is undoubtedly a reflection of the hostility that the parties currently feel towards each other”. He went on:

“The collateral damage of the wife’s and the husband’s antipathy towards each other are of course their children.”

The parties have three children, although none are children of the marriage. The wife’s child, ‘WD’, is 22, and the husband’s children, a daughter ‘HD’ and a son ‘HS’, are aged 20 and 15 respectively. Mr Justice Williams explained the ‘collateral damage’ on them:

“This became abundantly clear when WD, now aged 22, came to give evidence and found it difficult to hold back the tears. Even her relationship with her stepsister, HD, which was formerly close, and with HS, her stepbrother, have suffered to the extent that there is currently no ongoing contact, even digital.”

It is not relevant to explain here the award that Mr Justice Williams made upon the wife’s claim, but after setting it out he concluded his judgment with this paragraph:

“As an endnote, this case did not require me to consider in any particular detail the needs of the children although I heard quite a lot about them. WD (concluded as a child of the family) and HD (not a child of the family) are no longer minors with HS (not a child of the family) still a minor. Whatever the price the wife and the husband have paid emotionally as a result of the breakdown of their marriage and whatever the cost financially to them of this process, having seen WD I have little doubt that the emotional price the children have paid individually and collectively is far higher. I hope that following the conclusion of this case the parties will be able to redirect their energies away from the money and dedicate them to something infinitely more valuable in the form of their children.”

I know I’ve said similar things before, but this sad comment from one of our top family judges really should be read by all parents involved in heavily contested financial remedy proceedings. Stop and consider what is really important: the money, or your children? I think the answer will be easy to see.

All family lawyers have come across it: parties who are so absorbed by the ‘battle’ over finances that they become blind to everything else. They are so eager to ‘get what is justly theirs’ or to prevent the other party, who they once loved but now hate, from ‘getting a penny’ that the fight becomes all-consuming, literally taking up all of their energies, no matter what the collateral damage, to use Mr Justice Williams’ expression.

And of course it may be too late to repair that damage after the proceedings have concluded. You must seek not to cause the damage in the first place. Remember that your children are witnesses to your behaviour. If you behave with constant hostility to the other party/parent then they will find that behaviour upsetting, and they may choose to take sides, causing divisions within the family that may last for the rest of the lives of those involved. This is a disaster that no amount of money can compensate for.

Note that I am not saying that you should settle for less than you are entitled to. What I am saying is that it is best for all concerned that the case is dealt with in a constructive, non-confrontational manner. Try your best to resolve it by agreement, perhaps with the help of mediation. But even if you can’t, then going to court does not mean that it has to be a battle. For the sake of your children, make sure it isn’t.

If you wish to read the full judgment you can do so, here.

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

Comment(1)

  1. S says:

    So why don’t solicitors do more to encourage the battling parents to mediate, to find some middle ground? In all my brothers proceedings not one solicitor tried to offer this. When you find yourself caught up in an ugly battle, when you realise the family courts work the opposite to criminal courts, they judge you guilty even before they’ve heard the facts, you realise you’re on your own unless you have lots of money. Very very sad from a person who has witnessed first hand the unfainess of the entire process.

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