I am posting a short series of posts about a philosophy of family law which I hope will provide food for thought for those of you who are locked in a family law battle and can’t see a way out. Once they are posted I will put them altogether in one article and link to it. I am going to ask you to read what I will say without any of your usual running commentary – turn off the little voice in your head that tells you what to think – the one that is right now saying – what little voice? The one that says that nothing that anyone can say will make a difference to my situation because the other parent is just being completely unreasonable and I can’t reach them. Listen out for anything I might say that you can relate to – even if it’s not exactly applicable to your life or situation. I am not saying that I am right or that what follows is true: but please just have a look and see if any of it might be helpful. I am trying to write something general. It may not apply exactly. You may have a child as a result of a one night stand. You may have a child having been happily married but this is no longer the case. Your partner may have died but you are still dealing with their extended family. You may have suffered terribly at the hands of your ex. Your situation is your own unique one – just see if something lands with you. But do consider carefully anything you are tempted to dismiss out of hand – I ask you to consider that the more it goes against the grain, the more there may be for you to see about yourself.
As a barrister I obviously spend a lot of my time around parents and professionals who are not able to reach agreement about matters to do with their children. Much as I love my job, and much as sometimes the forensic process can get to the truth or an approximation of it, most people who go through court cases about children come out dissatisfied and upset and no further along the road to reaching any kind of understanding or accommodation with the other parent or professionals. The trouble with court cases is that people have to adopt a position in which they are right and the other person is wrong. Unfortunately this accords only too well with our natural desire to look good & be right. In the run up to the court hearing people also act on an equally natural tendency to surround themselves with other people who will bolster this view of themselves so that it comes as an even worse shock when they are confronted with the judgment and opinion of others which may go in a different direction. Ironically, this often happens to those on each side of the argument, with the Judge ending up being critical of the behavior of both parents. Of course, there are many other ways of trying to reach an understanding through mediation or family therapy etc but I am not convinced that there is time in the publicly funded mediation process always to get to the bottom of the different world views and family therapy is a rare and expensive commodity.
When I started out in family law I would often represent people in cases where there were allegations of domestic violence or bad behavior around contact or separation and I would read with open-mouthed amazement a description of an incident from two different perspectives which were seemingly irreconcilable. I tended to assume that it was as simple as one person was telling the truth and the other was not. Very occasionally it is as simple as that, but this is rare. And even when domestic violence – or some other black and white bad behavior has taken place – this does not mean that the victim’s perception of everything else about the relationship is wholly accurate. It also does not make forgiveness impossible, nor change on the part of the wrongdoer; although, it may, of course, make it take a great deal of work on the part of the wrongdoer. And do not get me wrong – violence towards another human being is never justified.
Eventually, for my own reasons, I went on a personal development course which helped me understand how I behave and think, which in turn helps me to understand the diametrically opposite positions people can adopt in litigation. Most people are aware on an intellectual level that other people see things through a filter and even that they themselves do it but we are very rarely aware of how exactly we do it ourselves. I suddenly saw that I had adopted a way of looking at the world in which all men were frankly b******. I had plenty of evidence of this in the way my father had behaved (in my head, at least), the way men had behaved towards me in relationships, the evidence all around me of men using violence towards women. I don’t mean to suggest that none of this is accurate. But I listened to someone saying that she knew her partner did not want to talk to her because he started unpacking the dishwasher. I was nodding in agreement. My then boyfriend (now husband) used to spend hours on the computer late at night which obviously meant he did not want to talk to me. A question was asked: had the dishwasher cut out his tongue? And all the dominoes fell down in my head. The woman had never said to her partner that she wanted a conversation. She just expected him to know because it was on her mind. It was perfectly possible to have a conversation at the same time as unpacking the dishwasher. I, like her, was capable of making the smallest of actions part of my evidential foundation for writing off half the human population. I could see that I was so resigned to the way I thought the world was I had given up on trying to expect anything else. Of course, none of you do that, do you? To be continued