Why should we have a presumption of equally shared parenting in family law? This is why (Coventry Telegraph, 3/2/11).
It’s pretty much an off-the-shelf kind of story, i.e. a garden-variety tragedy courtesy of the United Kingdom’s family courts. The fact that “Harvey’s” story is in no way surprising or even unusual says more than I ever could about the sorry state of family law in the English-speaking world.
Harvey is a decent man, a hard worker who cherishes his two little girls who, if my math is right, are now three and five years old. He and his wife split up in 2007 and Harvey was forced to move out of their house.
In lock step, his wife filed for divorce, made false allegations against him, kept him from seeing his children and of course kept them from seeing him. More than £50,000 of his hard-earned money and over three years later, Harvey now manages to see his girls four hours a week. That’s a little over 2% of the time and of course nothing like what it takes to be a real father to them.
Four hours a week. That’s more like visiting hours in prison than being a father to your daughters.
And that’s the good news. His ex-wife still routinely violates court visitation orders with no adverse reaction from the court. Into the bargain, Harvey’s parents, the girls’ grandparents, don’t get to see the children at all, a fact that leaves them flabbergasted.
Now Harvey is fighting back with the help of the public charity Families Need Fathers. He’s going for an equal division of parenting time and, having exhausted his funds, represents himself with the help of FNF. The organization provides guidance in court procedures, evidence requirements moral support and the like.
FNF is particularly concerned about contact denial by custodial parents. Retired teacher Anne Burge is Harvey’s local leader of FNF.
Anne said: “Families Need Fathers is so concerned about contact denial. It robs the child of a caring parent.
“For those dads going through the courts it”s a long arduous path. Sometimes when they come to us they are absolutely traumatised.
“We try to encourage people to carry on and the dads encourage each other – a child deserves two parents.’
It’s a concept that’s lost on many family court judges. I’ve said it more times than I can count; until family courts start enforcing visitation (contact) orders, custodial parents will continue to violate them. Why wouldn’t they?
Haven’t parents proven by now to everyone’s satisfaction that some of them will do what they can to deprive the other parent of contact with their kids? That’s no mystery to anyone with even a casual knowledge of divorce and custody matters. Why haven’t family judges gotten the message?
Interestingly, Burge is a big proponent of Dr. Richard Warshak’s book on Parental Alienation Syndrome entitled “Divorce Poison.” She recommends it to many of the dads who come to FNF for help.
To me that seems to be a smart move. It’ll help the dads recognize what may be going on in their own efforts to maintain contact with their children and, I suspect, let them know that what they’re experiencing is not uncommon. They needn’t feel they’re facing alienation alone.
To those who continue to oppose the admissibility of evidence of parental alienation syndrome in custody proceedings, I recommend Anne Burge. First, she’s a woman and mother who knows the reality of PAS, having suffered it first-hand. Second, her efforts to promote awareness of PAS show that it’s not what the anti-dad crowd claim it to be.
One of their favorite misrepresentations of PAS is that it’s a sneaky tactic used by abusive fathers to deprive innocent mothers of custody. In fact, as essentially all pro-PAS mental health professionals acknowledge, it has nothing to do with the parent’s sex and everything to do with the parent’s behavior. Alienators are both mothers and fathers.
In short, mothers as well as fathers can benefit from courts’ recognition of PAS. Needless to say, so can kids.
Anne Burge’s proof positive of that.