…Children are many things. They can be messy, noisy, expensive, funny, infuriating, loving – but they are not weapons. However, there remains a persistent minority of mothers out there estranged, separated or divorced from the child’s father, who insist on using their offspring in this way. And it’s about time something was done to stop this.
Any parental break-up is heartbreaking for the children involved. The law states that the children should be at the centre of all considerations around arrangements post-split and that their needs and feelings should be put first. Morally, most people believe this anyway and do not need the law to remind them. The unfortunate thing though is that some mothers ignore both the legal and the moral arguments, and use their children as pawns in a game to manipulate or hurt their ex-partner, sometimes without even realising they are doing it.
This might be through dictating unfair contact and if their ex won’t adhere then denying contact again for several weeks. It could be through feeding derogatory stories to the child to taint their picture of the absent parent leading to permanent damage to the relationship. Or it could be actively encourage the children to spread lies about an ex to score points with friends or in any ongoing financial settlement.
It is difficult for the law to deal with this. If a mother repeatedly refuses to comply with a contact order, the father can go to court to ask for it to be enforced. The courts can warn and even fine the mum but, ultimately, can do little more at the moment. It could be argued that in the most extreme instances, residence should be switched to the absent parent but would it be in the best interests of the child to do this? Like it or not, the mum is often best placed to look after the needs of that child, who loves them dearly, on a daily basis. Similarly, a cut or complete removal of benefits is likely to adversely affect the child, as would a custodial sentence.
Some mums I have come across know this and exploit it. Many will be good mums in every other sense, but just want to hurt their ex and don’t even fully realise the impact on their children of this behaviour.
It is time we had a debate on the issue and what more can be done to help fathers caught in this trap and their children caught in the middle.
Written by Kimberley Bailey, divorce and family law solicitor with Woolley & Co, Solicitors based in Bristol. Kimberley works with many separating parents, focusing on putting the children first in the advice that she gives. For more details visit www.family-lawfirm.co.uk.
How do we stop this happening? What sanctions can be brought that will be in the best interests of children? Do parents always know when they are using their children as weapons? OnlyDads agree with Kimberley – there really is need for further debate!