The Emotional Harm Caused To Children By Parental Conflict

By Louise Barretto

Posted: 14th September 2015 10:45

When writing articles for publication I would normally prepare a piece dealing with an interesting financial issue arising on divorce.  However, whilst reviewing the regular update I receive on interesting and important cases, I came across judgment in the case of K v D (Parental conflict) 2015, which I read with great sadness.  The entire case seemed eerily familiar to me.  I have seen the same thing in my practice many times; different detail, but the same theme of parents who cannot agree on arrangements for their children, and the destruction that can so easily follow.
 
These are usually intelligent, sensible people in all other aspects of their lives.  Many hold positions of great responsibility (over and above their responsibility to their own children) and they all love their children.  They are usually stubborn and convinced they are right, even in situations where there really is no right or wrong.  There is often a complete unwillingness to compromise.
 
In the case of K v D the social worker who assisted the court described the parents as being “intent on destroying each other”.  The children who were 12 (boy) and 10 (girl) in this case, were described by the social worker as “resilient” but “vulnerable”.  They were acutely aware of the animosity between their parents and blamed their father for the financial difficulties they saw their mother experiencing after separation.  Financial matters had not been finally decided when the child arrangements matter was heard, and the father had not paid the interim maintenance or school fees he had been ordered to, resulting in financial difficulties for the mother of which the children were acutely aware.  They were anxious as they knew that their school fees had not been paid and they were in danger of losing their place.  The social worker was clear that the children, especially the son, had become too involved in their parent’s conflict.  Despite all this they had both managed to do well at school – perhaps this was the only secure environment they had?
 
The father was criticised for his lack of financial support towards the family.  He resided in Dubai for tax reasons.  There did not appear to be a lack of money on the father’s side, although he claimed there was.  The family home was described by the social worker as being the most luxurious property she had visited in 20 years of professional life.  In addition, the father owned a property in Kent which stood empty, while he stayed in a 5 star hotel on Park Lane for six nights during the hearing.
 
The mother was also criticised by the judge for not encouraging the children to maintain a relationship with their father, and allowing them to become too involved in the dispute.  There were many other aspects to this case and I have presented a simplified version because the emphasis for me has to be on the absolute inability of these two parents to see the emotional harm they were causing to their children, even when this was pointed out to them by the social worker.  Part of the judge’s approach was to spell out, in very clear terms, in the judgement the very strong views of the social worker, as follows:

What more can our courts do?
 
Even for experienced specialist family solicitors these are very difficult cases because often if you advise your client to move on their position, they feel they are not being supported by their solicitor and that he/she is not “fighting their corner”.  Alternatively, writing strong letters putting the client’s point of view only makes the other parent angry and more entrenched, leading to a spiral of expensive and unhelpful correspondence.
 
In some cases I have found that where mediation doesn’t work, a referral to a psychologist can help the parents to put aside their feelings for each other and open their eyes to the potentially devastating emotional harm their children may suffer if the situation is allowed to continue.  Sometimes I have felt obliged to cease acting for a parent who is not taking my advice and refuses to get professional help – it is simply too destructive.
 
Louise Barretto
Partner
 
Areas of specialism Louise is a solicitor specialising in all aspects of family law, with a particular emphasis on complex financial matters and those with an international element.  She is dual qualified in England and in South Africa.  Although she now practises solely in England, she deals with many cases with a South African connection.  She has been called on to assist as an expert witness on English divorce law in the High Court of South Africa.
 
The family team which she jointly heads is ranked in London in both Chambers and Partners and Legal 500. 
 
Citywealth have included Louise as a “prominent figure” in their leading lawyers category and she has recently been nominated as a “Power Woman” by Citywealth. Corporate Livewire has awarded Louise the “lawyer of the Year for Family Law- Surrey, UK and she has also been rated by Super Lawyers.
 
Louise is a member of Resolution and the Family Law Accreditation Scheme.
 
Louise can see clients by appointment in Richmond.  You may telephone her directly on 020 7091 2869 to arrange a meeting.
 

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