Saturday, June 7, 2008

Mum doesn't live with us any more

The following story is an interesting reversal of the typical post seperation custody outcome - ie most of the time the kids go with the mother. As such fathers often miss out on the same level of contact with their children post seperation or divorce.

However in the following story the situation is reversed and the mother loses custody of her kids. Please note how the author of this story still implies that the mother is the victim, and she expresses a desire to understand and help this poor women. Whereas a father in a similar situation would typically be denigrated in the article and no effort would be made to understand his motivations - GR KLEIN

The Times (Britain), 3 June 2008

More than 150,000 UK mothers live apart from their children, as courts increasingly give custody to fathers, Catherine Bruton reports on the rise of ‘mothers apart'

Margaret Clarke went out to work one day and returned to find that her children had gone. “My husband ended our eight-year marriage by walking out with my two young sons, then aged 4 and 2. I came home to an empty house. It was a nightmare.”
(Yep I can certainly relate to that feeling as I am sure can many fathers who have seperated from their partners - GR KLEIN)

Margaret applied to the county court, which ruled that the children should be returned to their mother - but her estranged husband refused to do so.

In the six-day court hearing that followed, Margaret found to her dismay that “when it comes to custody battles, possession is nine tenths of the law. If you've got the kids from the outset you are in a much better position to maintain the status quo. My ex-husband was able to establish a ‘new normal' with the children, thus initiating the elimination of me as their mother from their lives.”
(This is what happens to so many fathers every single day, they are eliminated from their children's lives - GR KLEIN)

When the judgment finally came, Margaret, a 42-year-old business manager from
South London who had been working full-time as the family's main breadwinner, felt that she was penalised for being a working woman. The court granted residence to the children's father, confining Margaret's contact to once a week and alternate weekends.

Margaret's story is not uncommon. The number of
UK mothers who have little or no contact with their children is rising each year. The latest quarterly Child Support Agency figures (September 2007) show that women are registered as the “non-resident parent” in 66,900 maintenance cases. These figures do not include mothers who have been denied “parental status” and so have no access at all to their children. Penny Cross of Match (Mothers Apart from Their Children) estimates that there are more than 150,000 mothers living apart from their children in the UK, and the numbers are rising every year.

A new book seeks to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about such mothers. A Mother Apart: How to let go of guilt and find happiness living apart from your child (Crown House Publishing, £12.99) is written by Sarah Hart, a counsellor and “mother apart” who argues that we live in a world of gender double standards
( Oh gender double standards they are so horid I agree but it is obviously men that have the most to complain about here, being as they comprise the overwhelming majority of all parents who are absent from their children _ GR KLEIN), where non-resident mothers are unfairly
stigmatised. “People assume that they have either abandoned their children or been deemed unfit mothers by the courts. They are perceived as bad mums, odd, possibly even heartless, selfish or cruel,” she says. “In reality, the circumstances surrounding a mother choosing to living apart from a child are often complex and emotionally charged. Decisions are often made very quickly in times of high stress, few resources and seemingly few choices.”

Cultural expectations of male and female parenting roles have changed in recent years, but the stereotype of the mother who would fight to the death rather than live without her children continues to hold sway over the public imagination. “Many ‘mothers apart' feel that they have no socially recognised right to grieve the loss of their children,” explains Hart. “They may keep quiet about the existence of children with whom they have no
contact, struggling in silence with feelings of worthlessness, guilt, high anxiety and depression.”

Each year between 150,000 and 200,000 (married and unmarried) parental couples in
England and Wales separate. Most parents agree arrangements for residence and contact without the involvement of the courts. As in Marie's case (see left), financial constraints are the most common reason for mums to relinquish custody, but illness, depression and personal ambition may also be factors.

For an increasing number of women, though, the decision is taken out of their hands by the courts. About 30,000 residence orders are made each year in English and Welsh courts. According to Miranda Fisher, a family law solicitor with Charles Russell: “If there has, in the past, been a presumption in favour of the mother as primary carer, now that more mothers are working full time and fathers taking on more childcare responsibilities, there is a growing trend in the family courts towards making shared residence orders. There are also more cases where fathers obtain sole residence orders, although they are still very much in the minority.”
(Thankyou for pointing this out, but it is typical of our society that we tend to view a problem as more worthy of notice if it affects a woman , although the majority of people affected by it may be men - for example it is horrible to think of a women being a vicitm of assault but young males make up the overwhelming majority of people in this category, it is horrible to think of women in jail but 94% of prisoners are male, it is terrible to think of a women killing herself but 80% of all suicides are male, and it is very sad to think of a mother living without her children but the fact is the overwhelming majority of people in this situation are fathers _ GR KLEIN )

Fisher says that courts are reluctant to cause children upheaval by
disrupting existing residence arrangements. “For example, if a mother moves out of the family home - perhaps planning to organise alternative accommodation for herself and the children - it might take between six and 12 months to get to a court hearing that will make a final determination about residence. By that time the father may have made arrangements for the children that work well, and the court must then decide what the effect on the children would be of changing these arrangements. What the mother may
have intended to be only a temporary arrangement could result in her permanently losing residence.”

And for many mothers who fail to gain residence, the story doesn't end there. “The real difficulty for the absent parent often lies not in
obtaining an order for contact with children, but in making contact work in the long term,” says Fisher. “This is most apparent where the court is faced with a hostile parent with residence of the children who refuses to accept that any contact is in their interests.”

In the past, courts could hand out fines or prison sentences only to
obstructive parents - measures usually not considered to be in the best interests of the child. “When the Children and Adoption Act (CAA) 2006 comes into force, parents who breach contact orders, or conditions attached to contact, will risk having to do community service alongside those convicted of criminal offences,” explains Fisher. “However, the success of the new powers will depend largely on the extent to which judges are prepared to use these measures.”

But if the children themselves refuse to comply, there is little that the courts can do. “I have a piece of paper confirming that I have shared residence of my children, but it's worthless,” says Margaret. “My eldest son was convinced by his father that I was evil and dangerous, and two years after the split he started refusing to stay with me.”

Afraid that her relationship with her youngest son was also at risk
Margaret applied to the courts. “The judge refused to believe that my children were being brainwashed against me. Now I have two children who are my life but will not acknowledge me. My ex believes he has ‘won' and that our children, aged just 11 and 8, are old enough to have decided that they don't want me as a mother.”

Separated parents of both genders who are prohibited from seeing their children suffer deeply as a result. “All I have left is to pray that one day, when they are old enough, they will somehow find their way back to me,” says Margaret. “I will always be waiting for them.”

Barbara Stillman, 54, has left the door open to her estranged daughter for more than a decade. “I've had no contact with my eldest daughter, now 24, since she was 14 but I have never let go of her in my heart,” she says.

When Barbara's husband walked out of the marriage, her two girls opted to go with him while their brothers stayed with Barbara. “You can't force contact with your children but you never stop being a mum,” she says. “I always went along to parents' evenings. On one occasion my eldest daughter started screaming at me ‘You're not my mother. You have no right to be here!'”

Last week Barbara's daughter sent her a text message - the first contact in years. “I'm overjoyed!” says Barbara. “It may seem like only a small thing but for me it's the best gift I could hope for.”

Barbara believes that while you should never give up hope, mothers apart cannot dwell in the past. “It may seem impossibly hard but you have to find a life of your own, try to move on. If you spend your time mourning the childhoods you can't recapture and running over all the painful memories, you will end up emotionally crippled,” she says.

Sarah Hart, a counsellor, agrees: “If there is to be a chance for a
meaningful adult relationship, it's important for mothers apart to work through those feelings of pain, guilt, shame or anger.”

I'm still their mum

Two years ago Marie Cartwright, 39, from York, walked out of an abusive marriage, leaving behind her two girls: Elizabeth, 6, and Charlotte, 2. “I desperately wanted to take the girls with me but all I could afford was a single room in a shared house,” she says. “The only other option was a homeless shelter. If the girls stayed in the family home with their father they would be surrounded by friends, grandparents, uncles, aunts and all that was familiar. It was a heartbreaking decision for any mother to have to make but in the end I did what I thought was best for them.

“Sometimes I torture myself wondering if I did the right thing. My greatest fear is that the girls will grow up believing I left because I didn't love them enough.” Some members of Marie's family refuse to forgive her. Her own mother hasn't spoken to her since the split.

Marie maintains regular contact with her daughters. “Of course I'd love to see the girls more than I do, but there's no point in beating myself up all the time for not being there for them 24/7. I just have to try to be the best mum I can in the time I have with them. I stopped being a wife but I never stopped being a mum.”

Mothers Apart from Their Children:

Sarah Hart, counsellor and author:

National Family Mediation (NFM):

Families Need Fathers (FNF)

No comments: