Stop mums using kids as a weapon in divorce

In this post, Kimberley tackles an issue that goes to the heart of much of the work we do at OnlyDads. We really would be interested in your thoughts too…

…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

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!



About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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25 Responses to Stop mums using kids as a weapon in divorce

  1. James says:

    This is all true my ex kept getting police on me when we was getting divorce even though I did nothing I had contact on phone and holidays which I felt was not long enough but went along with it then she met few different blokes moved them in without my kids even knowing them she fell pregnant then done a runner with my kids and I don’t know where they are and no contact my kids was getting turned against me now I’m at a dead end with no help cos of the law

  2. Diana Jordan says:

    Well said Kimberley. Your point about parents (it is mostly but certainly not always mothers) not realising what they are doing, far less the effect it will have on their children is important as there are many cases which are far less blatant than James’s. Our awful adversarial legal system (do I sound like a stuck record?) means that solicitors will often miss it too: they only hear one side, and have to be on the side of their client so don’t necessarily think about how it is for the other parent and what else may be going on. I know I’ve been guilty of this more than once and the wonderful hindsight is often just too late. It is a huge problem and I don’t see any easy answers within our current legal system: there needs to be some form of intervention for children long before anyone gets to court. A debate on this whole issue is certainly needed.

  3. Unfortunately the animosity between parents has been known to be fuelled by a small number divorce lawyers – I’ve cringed when I’ve read the advice some have been given, with the aim of “getting even” rather than seeking an amicable end. The longer the bitterness, the more likely contact issues are (wrongly) likely to creep into the equation.

    While there are a number of organisations set up up to try and support non resident parents, all too often the campaign takes the route of a gender battle – it’s not. It’s about good and bad parenting, a good parent will put the children before their bitterness and realise that, regardless of their family circumstances, the children love their parents unconditionally and the children have the right to spend time with that parent too. I hate to hear the words “my” children in these contexts, as if the children are some kind of possession. We occasionally have (mainly new) single parents on our forum asking how much contact to “let” their ex partner have. “Let”???!!!? Unfortunately the answers to such questions can be dangerously skewed if posted on some of the more radical, feminist forums, fortunately our readers take a much more child-centric view.

    The most powerful peace of publicity I’ve seen for this campaign was the Children4Justice video – how can any parent watch that and not realise the damage caused by using the children as pawns.


  4. it’s the opposite for me actually, and I was an adult when my parents split. my dad continuously tries to get me to “give” mom messages and gifts and such.. I have just adapted to ignore it and change th subject. it is very frustrating but it has to be said that it is not just the moms – it can go both ways.

  5. Jenny Williams says:

    This is nothing new at all. Forty two years ago my husband left his ex and was told by her that he can “kiss goodbye to ever seeing their son again”. The boy was 2½ years old at the time. My hubby used to go every Friday to take her some money. Every Friday she’d lock the little boy up in a room where he couldn’t get out. After about 6 weeks of listening to the little chap screaming “Daddy, Daddy” and not being allowed to get to hold and hug him he stopped going round there as it was breaking his heart. Their case duly went to Court and the ex. told the Court she didn’t want the boy to have any contact with the father. And that was it. In those days the Courts left it pretty much up to the parent given custody a to whether or not the other parent was allowed to keep contact with the child. So the little boy was brainwashed over the years into thinking that dad was pretty much only the sperm donor and a generally bad lot at that. Even the birthday and Christmas presents he was sent by his dad were in the most returned to us. Many years later my hubby managed to contact his son, but the damage had already been done. He refused to acknowledge his dad in case it upset his mother – and this was the woman who’d locked him up for God’s sake! I’m just glad that this dreadful, spiteful and mean woman has a higher Court to face in due course. God help her.

    • llviper says:


      i read your story with so much emotion, as i have gone through a very similar experience with my ex but mine was just 5 years back. i wonder if your husband did managed to connect back with his son after that?

  6. I never think kids should be used as weapons and it makes my really sad that people do, but it really isn’t just mums that do it! Having just been through another bad patch where. amongst other things, my son’s dad tried to blackmail me into getting back with him (we’ve been separated for 3 years) by refusing to see his son unless it was ‘as a family’ it makes me quite angry that it’s just mums that are being painted as doing wrong.

  7. Andli says:

    It’s not always the mums, some fathers just want to make it their business to make single motherhood as difficult as they can. Each case is different and if the fathers are indeed non committed then perhaps it is in the child’s best interest to remain with one positive and happy pant than two feuding and angry ones.

  8. That’s the point I made Andli – as parents we need to put our feuds and anger aside for the sake of the children. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s critical – children caught in the crossfire will suffer. I had battle after battle with my ex in the early days, but always by text, well away from little ones’ eyes and ears. Eventually it’s all settled and is on the borders of being amicable now, but the kids haven’t known any difference along the way – while at times I could have happily buried their father in concrete, I never ever criticised him to them, they adore him and it would only hurt them.

    It’s so, so difficult and at times I’ve really had to bite my tongue, but in the end it’s been worth it – and that’s what matters.

  9. I admire Kimberley for posting this. Personally, I am fed up with apologists for women implying it is always the father who causes the trouble. It plainly isn’t. It is both.

    It is time to stop pussyfooting around and tell the truth of what goes on:

    Some men and women use the children as weapons.
    Some lawyers, Judges and mediators are not that good!
    Getting things resolved by discussion is cheaper and normally better.
    It takes only ONE person to mean the case goes to Court–what can you do if one person refuses to be sensible or talk?
    The law needs to better suit the needs of parents and kids. A government is probably not that good at sorting out what it should be!

  10. J says:

    It is not always the mums. These days many judges have begun to favor the dads just because the men have been complaining about unfair treatment. What unfair treatment.. And something else is not fair…when a male judge takes children from the mother, the one who carried and gave birth and loved those children all those years, then one little thing she does that the judge didn’t like and he gave custody to the dad. So wrong!! Grossly unfair!!

  11. Diana Jordan says:

    The simple truth here is that going to court just does not work. It doesn’t work for mothers or fathers and it certainly doesn’t work for children. So, here’s a blank piece of paper (or should I say screen!) please redesign the system, leaving judges and courts right out of it, (or only in as a very last resort) and putting children first. I would particularly like to hear from older children/adults whose parents have divorced as to how they think it could have been done better for them. It is time for change, all suggestions gratefully received please.

  12. Isaac says:

    I believe it is every childs human right to have access to a father as well as a mother.ones this right is denied by one party or the the courts it become a breach of the innocent childs right to liberty.People who perpetrate such crime of wickedness against children should face the full force of the Law and that should include judges who cannot see or empathise with a father or a mother. The interest of the child is paramount and should be prioritise over how a mother feels about the childs father or vise vesa. A mother cannot never be a father to a child and likewise, a father cannot not be a mother to a child. Children need both parents to feel complete, so why should they be denied that and instead be used as weapons of spite and punishment?

  13. Michael says:

    Small point Kimberley but as you well know the law provides for the child’s welfare to be paramount it but it does not provide for the children’s wishes and feelings to be put first.

  14. Thank you for all the comments which have been made. This is clearly a difficult and very emotive issue and each case is entirely different. I was not saying that all mums do this, certainly some fathers also try to manipulate the situation to cause upset to their ex-partners. It would be wonderful if all parents had their children’s best interests ahead of their own and were prepared to consider their wishes and feelings, and the extent to which these should be considered, and the importance of maintaining a positive relationship with the other parent. It would be great if both parents focused together on arrangements for their children putting aside their differences on other issues, such as finances. Certainly lawyers who are not focused on the child’s best interests will inflame the situation, but the good lawyers should be able to see both sides of the argument and be able to advice their client accordingly whoever’s “side” they are on so that everyone can quickly be on the child’s side where the focus should surely be. It seems everyone agrees with that point. I do hope that the requirement for mediation before court proceedings which will be in force across England and Wales soon allows parents to focus on solutions, which their lawyers should support them in achieving.

  15. Suzanne says:

    I felt my childrens’ wishes and feelings were totally ignored and all this ‘put the children first’ is just a load of box ticking and not addressing the actual issues. I’m surprised that mums use children as pawn. I find it’s more likely dads. Fathers for Justice has caused a lot of children to be torn equally between 2 houses, causing a lot of confusion and havoc. They don’t feel at home anywhere. And dads use the children purely to get half of the house, and then have to deal with 50% of the kids. Reluctantly. My experience anyway.

  16. A says:

    its mainly women that use their kids as weapons as the law is on there side. its so WRONG

  17. mark says:

    Mark Sherriff Mark Sherriff I have shared residency my ex is using my down syndrome son as a weapon because I don’t want to be with her. she is aggressive and abusive . its so wrong I am heart broken. ive been to court 2 years ago an was awarded shared residency. which she has broken. so unfair. shared residency aint worth paper its written on, if it was otherway round and I gave him back late or done the same thing it would be classed as child abduction. so unfair, even though there is warning on residency threatening imprisonment don’t mean nothing. ive had to pay out 270 pound for an enforcement of contact order, which she has broken. how confusing is this for my little boy. its bad parenting, does anyone have any advice on this ?

  18. james terry hazell says:

    I am going through this every time somthing does not go her way or she feels she wants more money from me, she threaten to stop me seeing my son till I give in and give her what she wants she runs my life over this should I go to court to stop her blackmailing me over this or will it just make thing worse? I’m terrified that she may go ahead with her threat

    • Kimberley Bailey says:

      Hi James. I’d be happy to spend a free half-hour on the ‘phone going through your situation : how I may be able to help / what you may be able to do, etc. Please feel free to e-mail me: so we can sort a time to talk or call me 0117 370 0264 / 0744 622 7046

  19. Daniel says:

    I have just lost three of my boys and going through a very painful time. At first she wanted to separated becuse we aren’t getting on well. She said she would let me see my kids any day and time I want. Would even allow me to let them stay once a week at my house. The boys love me and my love for them has no boundary. Now she refused to let me see them not more than once a week. I found it difficult to copy without them. I have come to the point hating women.

    • Kimberley Bailey says:

      Hi Daniel. I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I’d be happy to spend a free half-hour on the ‘phone going through your situation : how I may be able to help / what you may be able to do, etc. Please feel free to e-mail me: so we can sort a time to talk or call me 0117 370 0264 / 0744 622 7046

  20. Tom says:

    Hi all looking for help,I currently have my 4 yr old daughter tuesday nights and Saturday nights Thursday evenings too,i work a full time job as a joiner and my job times are changing and I will no longer be able to do nursery run on the wednesday morning after haveing her over night on tuesdays iv explained to the mother and all i get is a no iv even offerd to have her friday night instead of tuesday night…. So im giving up my only night of the weekend to comprimise o and her job status is at college so not like shes got to work atm trying to me shes being stubern and USEING my daughter as a wepon
    Would love some advice on my situation
    Regards tom

    • Kimberley Bailey says:

      Hi Tom. Sounds very frustrating indeed. I’d be happy to spend a free half-hour on the ‘phone going through your situation : how I may be able to help / what you may be able to do, etc. Please feel free to e-mail me: so we can sort a time to talk or call me 0117 370 0264 / 0744 622 7046

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