Sunday 18 March 2018


Because there are always two sides…

I find I am at odds with popular opinion in the case of the mother who was jailed for not allowing her ex-husband access to their teenage son.  In short, I find that (unlike most people it seems) I do have sympathy towards the father who was interviewed this morning on TVAM.

It is a complicated case, the real facts of which are still emerging, and I honestly do not know whether the sentence of three months’ jail for the mother was justified.   What I do know is that she was given a presidential pardon after the public outcry and a Xarabank programme which whipped up public sentiment, and she was released after three weeks.  I watched her coming out of jail carrying a plastic bag with her belongings, looking dazed at being met with cameras and microphones.

The father was not given a chance to tell his side of the story on TV until this morning.  There are many unclear details about this story – the most crucial one in my view is that,  if  the husband left her 18 years ago when she was pregnant, then why did he spend all this time fighting for custody?  Unless I am missing something, to me that shows that although the marriage fell apart, he still must have cared about the boy, otherwise he could have just walked away, like some men do.

According to an interview he gave to The Times earlier this week:

“They did not delve deeply into the case… They did not want to hear my side of the story… I spent 18 years fighting in court. She goes to Xarabank and all is forgotten. I’ve lost faith in the courts… what weight do they have if a programme can overturn their decision,” he asked.

He said he did not want his estranged wife in jail but there had to be some form of punishment for someone who disobeyed the court and refused to give him access to his son.

Should the mother have been jailed for not granting access?  With the same reasoning, should a man be jailed for not paying alimony and child support?

Now, those who know me, know how much of a feminist I am, but being a feminist does not mean that women are always automatically right. In my view, feminism means that you cannot have two weights and two measures just because of gender, and that can work both ways.

What I do know from the countless horror stories I have heard first-hand about separation cases, both men and women are perfectly capable of being unbelievably callous towards their ex-spouses.   There is often warfare over assets and property, and when the couple have children, they are thrown into the mix too, haggled over as if they were a piece of furniture which both sides are determined to get their hands on. It stops being about the welfare of the children, but about who will win.  Kids become part of the spoils purely to spite the ex who walked out.

This particular (very sad) case has caught the public’s attention because the mother ended up in jail and she was made into a cause celebre by the powerful media machine at Where’s Everybody.  But there are numerous similar stories which never make it into the public eye, which are just as heartbreaking. The one thing they have in common is that, when things turn ugly,  the children are the victims who suffer the most trauma.

The wrongs being done to children are often so unspeakable I wonder what people are thinking when they decide to bring a baby into the world.

It doesn’t matter who does it: whether it is the father who walks out without a backward glance, blithely “forgetting” that he ever spawned a child, leaving behind another damaged, bewildered human being who will always wonder “who is my real Daddy?”

Or whether it is the mother who highhandedly decides that the man who made her pregnant should be completely wiped out from the child’s memory so that she can make a “fresh start” (after ensuring that she has sufficiently poisoned the child’s mind against the father who eventually becomes like a ‘monster’ in the child’s imagination).

Both of these scenarios happen time and again and both are unbelievably selfish.  And in both cases, the crux of the matter is that we have too many children being raised without a father figure in their lives who could give them guidance and proper direction.

Let us not forget – as much as they need their mothers, children need their fathers too.


For more information about custody cases please read this opinion by family lawyer Dr Ann Marie Mangion

  • I have followed this matter with a very heavy heart. I have now read your contribution with interest, seeing that you are trying, at least :), to take a balanced view to this matter.

    I got married 14 years ago and one year later had a lovely son, one of the best things that ever happened in my life, and I am not being sentimental. Things took a turn for the worse: I made mistakes both towards the wife/mother and, unfortunately, the son and 7 years later the roads parted consensually. Agreements were made and papers signed without much fuss and overall agreement. The basic arguments that led to the separation resurfaced every now and then, with the son bearing the brunt more often than not. Things came to a head a year and a half ago, culminating with the son, apparently/hopefully, deciding that he does not want to see me. Mediation took place, phone calls, messages, meetings – all to no avail. I have been 15 months without decently seeing my son, which has got me rather down but I try to take it on the chin, and keep marching on, keeping a smile on my face.

    I might appreciate the stand of and sympathise with the father, but what is the point in taking it so far? A lot of fuss has gone in it. The son has not returned. The father remains in the window, waiting. The mother scarred by the experience, but even more resilient. A perfect lose – lose situation.

    The much talked-about Parent Alienation Syndrome, whilst proven by some, is much maligned by others. I suspect that I am the unwilling beneficiary of a particular dose, as in this case, but this cannot be proven in our courts. I have not done any qualitative or quantitative analysis on this and so will not risk venture further. My guidance (God bless her) has told me not to put too much weight in this, but what if it does exist? What if this can be helped and a solution to situations at least be attempted? I have heard many stories, some with a happy ending, some with a tragic one.

    A marital separation case is not a happy situation, especially when children are involved. I do not wish my biggest enemy to go through one. I wish that people who have no clue of the sentiments of people going through such a situation be more guarded when expressing their opinions. These are often misguided and, thankfully, with hardly a basis. Parents, and children – especially those beyond infancy – caught in these whirlpools of emotions, whilst guided, should be mostly left to their own devices.

    I am rather a cynic and will not hold my breath for a fairy-tale ending, with people walking hand in hand into the sunset, but augur, as per your concluding line, that both parents and children appreciate that, in most cases, both parents should be present in the development of a child.

    I am not seeking responses nor publicity for my case, but your column gave me the right impetus to express myself. Thank you.

    • No, it is I who should thank YOU for sharing your story.

  • Elaine

    I read the comment left by Sad Al with interest. Perhaps I can share my story from both perspectives, that of the child and that of the parent.

    As a child, my parents separated when I was about 10. My father was never around that often, perhaps because he worked a lot. But I don’t remember having the bond I see so often with other girls and their daddies. So when he left, I had many feelings, such as elation (because he used to hit me at the slightest naughty thing I did and I was afraid of him) and also anger for leaving us, for being unfaithful to my mother and for putting us in a precarious financial position. My parents did a contract, but I did not want to see him, especially after he began to interrogate us on what mum was doing.. Thankfully, my dad decided that he would let me go to him when I wanted to and not by any sort of force. Till I was 18, I never did go again. I didn’t want to. And no matter how much my mother would say, “He’ll always be your dad”.. I was still very angry. Then one day I sat him down and we talked, and since then things got better and better. But I was never forced and I had the opportunity to heal, to deal with my anger first and then go when I was ready to. We don’t really get on like a house on fire, but we do have some kind of father-daughter relationship. If I had been forced, I would have just been angrier and much more bitter. Teenagers want to assert their choices, their decisions and want autonomy – treating them like babies won’t get you anywhere.

    As a separated parent, things are different. I am forced to force them to see their father, and in the beginning, they didn’t always want to go. He would have a bad temper and would spend the time he had with them interrogating them about me, what I’m doing, where I am going, who I am speaking to… etc.. They didn’t like it but were forced to go through it. It’s really unfair, not on me, but on the kids, because I went through it too and I know how uncomfortable and guilty it made me feel after. Now things have gotten better and they seem to be enjoying their time together with him. What really pisses me off the most, if you would excuse my french, is that it’s not ok for me to not send them when THEY don’t want to go, but it’s A-OK for him to simply not turn up for them. What about the time it took us to get ready? What about the anticipation, the promises he made and didn’t keep? I have two girls dressed up like little ladies, crying, grumbling and feeling worthless bcos daddy didn’t come again. The onus falls on me to take them out and help them forget how let down they were. Why is no one paying attention to how painful and damaging it is to children when fathers (or mothers) don’t turn up for them? Why is this not a crime? Is it not ok to deny a father his children but ok to deny children their father if it is the father who is doing so??

    Who’s rights are we really looking out for? The parents’ or the children’s?

  • summerlove2106

    It is a crime for a parent to not turn up for the kids. The person can file a report at a police station and there are only so many chances the absent parent has before losing his/her rights. I am not sure about this, but I think a parent has about 3 chances of deciding to simply not turn up before losing his/her rights…

  • summerlove2106

    What I don’t see fair is when a parent uses the kids to get information about their ex spouse/partner. Why is that not considered stalking???

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