I have now been writing online about family law matters for nearly fourteen years. As one might imagine, I receive quite a few communications from people with direct experience of the family justice system. Sometimes, they seek advice (which I am no longer able to give, but I try to point them in the right direction), and sometimes they simply want to relate their experiences.
Obviously, I am not able to respond to all such communications, but the other day I received one that I thought might be of interest to readers of this blog. It came from a mother who, to use her own words, has been going through the family court for eight years (the two sub-headings in this post are also her own words). This post is written with her permission.
Before I proceed I should say two things. Firstly, I have changed some details, and left out some others, in order to simplify and preserve anonymity. Secondly, I have obviously only heard one side of the story I am about to tell, and I have not verified the story. I have no reason, however, to believe it is not true. Certainly, it strikes a chord with other similar stories I have come across.
“I have no fight left”
As I mentioned, the mother described to me how she has been back and forth to the family courts for eight years. She says that she is a victim of domestic violence, and five years ago the court stopped all contact between the father and their daughter. But still, the case drags on, with the latest development being that the father, who still has parental responsibility, is now seeking access to the child’s school records. She believes that he is only doing this to let her know that he is still around, and in control. She says that she will never be free.
She feels that she has now come to the end of her tether, saying that she is tired of fighting the case. She just wants to get on with her life, which is hard enough for a single parent, and for her and the child to be happy.
But her main point goes back to domestic violence. She feels strongly that a parent ‘guilty’ of domestic violence should forfeit what she calls their ‘parental rights’ so that they can no longer use the law to continue to harass the other parent.
Of course, during the time that she has been going to court a revised Practice Direction 12J of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 came into force. PD12J sets out the rules that the court should follow in child contact cases in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is another reason to believe, that the child or a party has experienced domestic abuse perpetrated by another party, or that there is a risk of such abuse. The mother says, however, that she sees no evidence of change as a result of PD12J.
“I hope the law changes one day for others”
The mother is resigned to the fact that the law has left her in the position of still having to face further interference in the lives of herself and the child from the father, despite the way that he has behaved. But she does express the hope that the law will one day change so that others don’t have to go through the same thing.
Should the law change? Should an abusive parent forfeit any ‘rights’ in relation to their child? If not, should there be a point at which the law draws a line under any further proceedings, thereby allowing the other parent and child to get on with their lives without fear of interference? These are difficult questions.
As to the first question, the issue is of course: what is best for the welfare of the child? Can one say that in all cases of domestic abuse it is best for the welfare of the child that they have nothing more to do with the abusive parent? I think most would say not, albeit that the abuse might have the effect of severely limiting any contact.
As to the second question, there is, of course, the possibility of the court making a ‘barring order’ preventing any further application without leave of the court, as I explained here in this post back in 2016. Whether the mother could persuade the court to make such an order in this case, I don’t know, but again I think most would say that such draconian orders should not be made automatically.
Of course, it might be said that both of those points put the ‘rights’ of the ‘abusive’ parent above those of the parent who is just trying to provide a happy and secure life for their child. Whilst that may technically not be true, it certainly seems that the system in its present form is failing to provide the protection that perhaps it should.