I wrote recently about a three-part BBC series that deals with separation and child custody. The first part aired Thursday and is now on YouTube here. I highly recommend it. On YouTube, it’s divided into six sections of 10 minutes each.
Encouragingly enough, it’s entitled “Who Needs Fathers?” with the subtitle which seems to answer the question, “For the Sake of the Kids.” Part I follows two separated couples with children, Alex and Juliette who have four and Chris and Angela who have two. How the two couples handle their respective separations and childcare arrangements is the main thrust of the piece.
Alex and Juliette are at odds from the first and it’s all about Alex’s access to their four boys. Juliette very frankly impedes him at every turn. A holiday in France that he’s planned for weeks and which the boys eagerly anticipate has to be cancelled at the last minute because Juliette refuses to allow him entry to their home, a fact she later lies about on camera. Another tactic she employs is to allow Alex to pick up three of the boys but not the fourth claiming that the child doesn’t want to go. Later Alex learns that she’d promised him an opportunity to go horseback riding that Saturday which of course he wanted to do. So what she represents as the boy’s idea was really her own.
Chris and Angela don’t have the financial resources that Alex and Juliette do, and that may help to explain their different approach to childcare. They’re determined to stay out of the courts and to do everything by negotiated agreement between the two of them. That doesn’t mean they’re free of enmity or that everything runs smoothly, but despite some serious difficulties, many of which stem from their financial straits, they manage to get by. They’re rarely at each others’ throats and their parenting shows it. They come close to an equally-shared childcare arrangement; Angela pays for all the chidren’s needs and Chris pays her mortgage payment and his own. Through it all, the viewer senses that the two, though separated for good, nevertheless doggedly work together for the sake of the children and themselves.
Early in Part I, Chris referred to the courts as “so adversarial,” and it’s that acrimony that he and Angela are determined to avoid. And they do.
Not so Alex and Juliette. Time and again Alex has had to seek help from the courts to get Juliette to comply with the most routine of matters. And in the most egregious instance, the court is there for him. When Juliette thwarts his holiday plans he applies for an emergency order which is granted and allows him and the kids to be together on holiday. But the more niggling matters can’t be dealt with that way. He calls the police in an effort to get her to comply with her obligations, but they arrive at midnight and announce that there’s nothing they can do.
The painful fact is that, for Alex, he’s saddled with an ex who knows how to paly the game to give him just enough grief on a continual basis that it hurts him but won’t do much to impress a judge. She doesn’t answer or return phone calls or text messages which makes Alex drive all over London in the often-vain hope of getting to see one of his children. She lets him see three of his kids as scheduled, but entices the fourth to stay with her.
By the end of Part I, the message is clear – courts can’t do a lot when one parent is determined to thwart the reasonable rights of the other.
But is that really true? Isn’t it more accurate to say that courts don’t do a lot when visitation rights are ignored by custodial parents? After all, while the court moved swiftly to order Juliette to let the boys go on holiday with their dad, she suffered no ill effects of her illegal conduct. In short, it was a free shot at Alex. He and the children were the only ones to suffer due to her violation of a court order.
And that’s a very old story. The same family courts that toss child-support obligors in jail in a hearbeat blithely ignore their own orders of visitation. The result? Custodial parents know to a certainty that there will be no consequences for the most outrageous violations, so often enough, that’s exactly what they do.
Perhaps Juliette could have benefited from listening to Angela who early in Part I said that often mothers carry a lot of emotional baggage regarding the children after divorce. She then added that “they’ll have to answer to the children later” in life because of it.
Thanks to John for the heads-up.