First, Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, a British domestic violence charity for the protection of women only (by the website), takes exception to the transfer of two children from the mothers' custody to the fathers' in an distressingly uncommon effort to redress years of alienation by the mothers against the fathers. While she accepts that "this is not an ideal world", she sees it as flawed in only one way that matters - mothers having to protect their children from abusive fathers. She says that the mothers she sees "are not bitter exes vengefully preventing separated fathers from seeing their children" and that is all she has to say about such women, that she doesn't see them. This should make her entire letter a thorough non sequitur because, from the article concerned, these two mothers who have, for once, been disciplined by the court manifestly are such vengeful harpies.
Nevertheless, Ms. Horley proceeds to forcefully suggest that the judges hadn't looked into these cases closely enough. Normally, and over that specific, unadorned point, I'd agree with her, the judges don't look closely enough nine times out of ten - it's very much the exception when they do and finally, after much hemming and hawing, find for the father.
She goes on to demand that court personnel should "receive training to dispel misconceptions about domestic violence" and likewise, I would agree with her. But not in the way should would imagine, not that all mothers claiming abuse must inevitably be telling telling the truth, nor that the facts of domestic violence is as one sided as she clearly believes, but that the courts themselves do cause considerable pain and anguish through their unwillingness to see the father in any terms besides those declared by the mother, often taking years to figure out what they want to do while children grow and fathers wither and die.
I find a third point in Ms. Horley's letter to which I can nod an assent, and again with a quick twist of which she would doubtless disapprove. She says "an automatic presumption that it is in 'the best interests of the child' to have contact with both parents, ignores the courts' responsibility to protect that child". Superficially, yes, she is correct, but she misrepresents the court by suggesting that the presumption implies the court shirks its duty in protecting the child in such a way. She would have done better to use the word "requirement" instead of "presumption" to retain some integrity to the assertion. But anyway, the whole meaning is undermined by the vacuousness of the phrase "the best interests of the child", no one has the least idea what that means any more.
What raised my jaded eyebrow, however, was her claim: "Defying the courts may well be a mother's 'last-ditch option' to keep her child safe." and here we have the chief executive of a major charity in a first world country advocating violation of the law. But only under certain conditions, I'm sure. I very much doubt that she would advocate a father kidnapping a child to protect his relationship with him or her, but it's clear she'd defend a mother doing so to keep the child away from the father, provided, of course, that the mother said he's dangerous.
A quick flit across the ocean to Texas and we discover precisely such an example of a father breaking the law to, he says, protect his relationship with his child. Daniel Pavon Cuellar has done a bunk across the border to Mexico with his infant son. Now this is clearly wrong and at best foolish because both Mexico and the USA are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the only complicating factor being that the mother is not American, but British (it's not clear to me what the two of them were doing in Texas when the child was born). Of course, they have to find the child first, and it is trite but true of me to say that we all hope that this resolves without lasting harm to anyone, especially the boy, but it isn't hard to see that the father, ultimately, is doomed pretty much no matter what he does.
That said, you'll be unsurprised to hear that I think reflex condemnation in all respects is too pat and that the father's motivation, for all the stupidity of the act, is quite significant. He fled for fear of a custody action which he would inevitably lose anyway and, one presumes, a move of the child to the UK. It wouldn't be hard to see that he'd have unsurmountable problems in remaining any part of the child's life, especially given the UK's track record in such things. On her webpage, baby Sebastion's mother, Samantha, asserts that "Daniel is violent and shows signs of been [sic] unstable, and mentally ill", although there is no supporting evidence provided, besides the kidnapping, and Daniel, by newspaper reports, insists that she is lying.
Now some might think it crass and insensitive of me to even show shades of taking the father's side, but I am sure that even Sandra Horley would be pleased to join me in disapproving of his behavior, although doubtless with somewhat more vehemence and hypocrisy than I. Nevertheless, I urge you to look at his position right now, which is pretty tight, run to ground somewhere in Mexico City. Somehow, I doubt that calling him "violent", "unstable" and "mentally ill" is helping matters and causes me to look a little askance at the hysterical press who have already tried and condemned Daniel forever. In fact, the whole thing reminds me of another incident not long ago which resolved itself quite cleanly hopefully to the embarrassment (but I doubt it) to all the gung ho rescuing "heroes" involved.
Finally, over to Australia, and a graphic description of what can happen to dads who put their trust in the system, even when it is supposed to have laws which protect their relationships with their children. The director of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, Edward Dabrowski, says
"I have seen fathers writhing in agony outside the doors of the Family Court. I will challenge any parent that is having their children wrenched away from them to say that they can remain totally sane and totally impassionate about what is happening to them."I know that agony, and it does indeed test any normal person's sanity (hang in there, Samantha), it leads me to understand Daniel's behavior (but not, you idiot, to condone it!), and makes me realize that the Sandra Horleys of this world and their simplistic thinking are a disease of prejudice and ignorance which must be cured.