December 18, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
No sooner had I posted yesterday’s blog than Neil Lyndon chimed in on the identical topic — Mr. R.’s adventures in family court. Mr. R. was kicked out of his house and barred from seeing his children for five months all because of an order issued by a family court, the hearing on which he was never notified of. Indeed, he and his wife were not in the process of divorce, but when she decided she wanted the kids to herself, all she had to do was ask the family court to remove Mr. R. from the house and his children’s lives. In a five-minute hearing of which he had no knowledge, the deed was done. It took him five months to get an appellate court to quash the order, five months during which his children had no father.
As I said yesterday, that’s the good news. Mr. R. obviously had the resources to hire a solicitor to appeal the outrageous case in which the appellate court found “11 injustices.” Few fathers have those resources, meaning that those ex parte orders can easily become final. According to Mr. R., the “evidence” supporting the order was entirely fabricated. But even if it were the truth, none of the allegations against him was newer than 17 years old. Given that, the court’s need for an emergency hearing was simple nonsense. The allegations had waited for 17 years; they could have waited another week or so for him to be informed of and attend the hearing.
All that spurred Neil Lyndon to tell his own story that’s even worse than Mr. R.’s (Telegraph, 12/17/14).
It happened to me and my son.
On 21 December 1991, at the time that had been agreed for me to see my nine-year-old son, I went to the Suffolk house where I had lived with him and his mother and found it empty, with the family car gone. Within hours, I established that my estranged wife had abducted our son to Scotland, where her family lived. I managed to track down my solicitor at home, who advised me to contact the police and wondered whether we should make my son a ward of the English court.
“Surely that can’t be necessary?” I objected in despair, feeling that such a move was the equivalent of putting the boy in care. Little did I understand it was precisely what we should have done, in order to forestall my wife’s next move.
On 30 December, without my knowing anything about it, she went to court in Edinburgh and applied for an order of custody which forbade me from removing our son from Scotland – a country in which he had, by that time, spent less than 20 days of his life in total. The court took no interest in the outright lies my wife told about the conditions she had supposedly created in Scotland for my son’s accommodation and education. Neither did they concern themselves with the truth that she was a chronic, hopeless alcoholic. Their attitude seemed to be that no woman would make such an application without good reason and, therefore, it required no investigation. As Mr Justice Jackson observed over the case of Mr R, the Scottish court in my case seems to have asked “why not?”, rather than “why?”
Yes, the Scottish court was so eager to remove a fit father from his child’s life that it took jurisdiction of a case of which it had none. Everywhere I know about, a court cannot assume jurisdiction of a child custody matter when the child has been within the jurisdictional area of the court for only 20 days. If the mother told the truth at all, which admittedly seems unlikely, the Scottish court should have returned the matter to Suffolk where the mother and the boy had so recently resided.
But, as Lyndon says, the court was happy to accept her outright lies as the truth and to rubberstamp her abduction of the child. And yes, she was a terrible alcoholic, but why would that concern a court that tells the world it’s acting “in the best interests of the child?” Sadly, the trauma for Lyndon and his son was far more long lasting than that of Mr. R.
Five years of court proceedings followed for me and my son, in which I was defeated over and again in my efforts to try to be the father he needed. I didn’t see him at all for two and a half years. He was 15 before he took matters into his own hand, ran away from his wholly unfit mother and placed himself in my care.
That’s right. It finally took a 15-year-old boy to do what a supposedly responsible adult, i.e. the family court judge, couldn’t manage. Once he got to the age at which courts allow children to pretty much decide with whom they wish to live, Lyndon’s son got out of his alcoholic mother’s house and into his father’s. That of course followed five years of wrangling in court that was doubtless very expensive and utterly unnecessary.
So how often are these ex parte orders issued by family courts, keeping one parent (almost invariably the father) out of his children’s lives? No one knows because, like so much that happens in family courts in the U.K., proceedings are secret. Also, no governmental agency sees fit to gather the data. After all, if they kept a tally, the data might reveal a shocking misuse of those orders. And we can’t have that. We can’t have the public, office holders and policy makers actually knowing what’s going on. There might be a public outcry. The system might have to be changed.
Still, a couple of organizations working for equal parenting have some ideas on the subject.
Fathers’ organizations were less than surprised, however. Fathers 4 Justice tweeted: “What’s new? This is standard practice.” No official figures seem to exist for the number of ex parte orders such as the one given against Mr R (ie one where the subject of the order knows nothing of the proceedings) but Ross Jones at Families Need Fathers said that they “are not everyday occurrences but are certainly not uncommon, and do seem to be happening more and more.”
And of course Lyndon points out that summary removal of a parent from a child’s life without a hearing and without the usual rules of evidence seems to violate existing law.
Surely there must be some legal protection for fathers in such circumstances? Indeed there should be. The Human Rights Act declares: “The right to a fair trial is fundamental to the rule of law and to democracy itself” and Article Six insists “There must be equality of arms between the parties… and both parties have the right to legal representation.”
On the face of it, then, the habits of family courts in awarding ex parte orders appear to be nothing less than the most flagrant breach of human rights in British life.
True, but the only ones harmed are everyone. Children suffer the loss of a loving and fit parent. Fathers suffer the loss of a child. Mothers are saddled with 100% of the childcare. And society is stuck with the bill for dysfunctional children who become dysfunctional adults, all because they were raised by a single parent.
Thank you family courts for not only your routine violations of human rights, but for the damage you do to our children. I swear there’s a special circle of Hell.
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