Our daughter has had two children by a man who turned out to be a violent bully. Halfway through her second pregnancy, she left him to live with us.
The trouble is, his constant visits to see the children are unbearable for me – and her. And yet we're frightened to let him take the children away on his own. While my daughter has escaped daily life with him, it looks as if we are saddled with him all our lives. It seems the law is an ass. Is there any way round this?
Yours sincerely, Geraldine
When it comes to the law being an ass in contact cases with children, it's usually the fathers who complain, rather than the mothers. So I'm wondering if you or your daughter have consulted a lawyer? Is your daughter married to this man, for a start? If not, his legal rights may be very different, even if he has his name on the birth certificate. And if they are married, has your daughter started suing for divorce? And has she logged all his violent episodes? In other words, has she seen a solicitor and been advised about her and her children's rights, or has she just listened to some blustering nonsense given to her by her partner?
Obviously I think it's terribly important for fathers to have contact with their children, unless the children are in danger from them, and fathers should be encouraged to visit, and not put off. Half of fathers who separate from their partners lose complete touch with their children, so in one way you could admire this man for being so persistent. And remember that though he may have been a foul husband or partner, it's possible that he's a good father. And even if he's not that great, it might be better for the children to have a reasonably OK father on the scene, rather than no father at all.
But let's say he is the monster you describe, then why don't you just tell him that he's not allowed to visit for a while and force him to fight through the legal routes to establish his rights? Push him to make a positive effort to see the children rather than just assume the law's an ass and wait for him to roll up and terrify you all.
If you were to close ranks and refuse him access, your daughter would be allowed to put her reasons for not wanting him visiting to a court, and he'd have to prove he wasn't a dangerous father. If what she says is true, I'm sure she could rustle up enough evidence from friends who've seen his behaviour to convince the court that if he did have access it would, at least, always be supervised. Supervised access isn't much fun for anyone, but better than nothing for an absent father, and would reassure you all that he was never in a position to terrorise his children.
The truth is, of course, that even if the courts decreed that he should be able to see his children freely, it's possible for your daughter to be obstructive and constantly say they were ill, or out when he arrived. It's unlikely she'd be charged or put in prison. It's not a nice route, and not one that I'd recommend, but it's worth keeping in the back of your minds if only to add some iron to your voice when refusing any unreasonable demands.
Stand up to this bully
Of course, when a split occurs, fathers have a right to see their children. However, the welfare of the children must always outweigh personal adult needs, and if this man is violent, it is not good for them to see you or their mother in a state of fear or be put in any potentially dangerous situation. I urge your daughter to seek legal advice about this as soon as possible. Perhaps supervised access visits could be arranged at a local centre? But if he has a history of violence, the relevant authorities and legal system should be made aware of this. Stand firm, stand up to this bully and don't let him carry on controlling your lives.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Don't be intimidated
Your daughter's partner knows he intimidates you by his visits to the children. This is bullying. He wants to control, and the only way he knows how is to visit and make you all feel uncomfortable. If he has shown no violence or bullying tactics to the children, you should take the initiative and suggest to him that he takes the children away every second weekend rather than visit during the week.
Taking them away for the weekends will allow more responsibility, more time and love, and show him that you accept him as the father. By allowing him to visit, you are allowing yourself to be be intimidated and bullied. I'm sure he'd love to have the children for a whole weekend, and you'd love the peace of him not visiting. Suggest this to him, and have faith.
Try supervised contact
This is a truly horrible situation to be in, which I can empathise with directly. I emigrated to Canada with my wife 35 years ago. Tragically, our first child was premature and died after one short hour of his tiny life. After we got over our grief, we became foster parents. We ended up taking on a four-year-old boy and his two-year-old sister, who came from a violent (very violent – they came to us directly from hospital) family and they stayed with us for two years.
During that time they were legally required to maintain contact with their family. And therein lies the answer to this conundrum - supervised contact. My wife and I used to take them to a monthly meeting supervised by The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa with their parents. The children ended up being adopted, with no further contact with their unfortunate past, but for them, as for your daughter, supervised contact is the immediate solution.
Violent men won't go away of their own accord, and you must protect yourselves against an escalation of violence. Get a restraining order put on him which will prevent him coming to your house and harassing you. Your daughter must apply for legal protection too. Courts take a very dim view of stalking and harassment these days.
They take an even stronger view when children may be at risk from abuse or violence – and this man is likely to use whatever leverage he can to cause you and your daughter grief. You can apply to the courts that he cannot see the children on his own without supervision – with a social worker present at all times. Do not let him take these children away for even an hour on his own.
There is much more help in place now than when I escaped from a violent bully – use everything in your power to get this sorted as soon as possible.
Virginia Ironside is touring the country with her one-woman show, The Virginia Monologues, Why it's Great to be Sixty, this month. For details, visit Virginiaironside.orgReuse content