June 12, 2015

Mum on run : desperate response to courts’ tougher stance?

By Kate Banerjee, partner and head of the children’s department

The sad case of three-year-old Ethan Minnock, who is in hiding with his mother, is evidence of family courts getting tough on mums who try to restrict fathers’ access to children.

Rebecca Minnock is on the run with her toddler son because she had allegedly “lost faith” in the legal system which has decreed that Ethan should live with his father.

The family law framework underwent seismic changes last year as part of the government’s bid to encourage divorcing couples to be less confrontational, to avoid court where possible – and to put children’s best interests first.

As I have previously written in this blog, a key feature of this legislation was Child Arrangement Orders – designed to promote joint parental responsibility and consensus between parents about where children will live – and how often they will see both mum and dad. There is a presumption that it is in the child’s best interests to have contact with both parents.

I predicted a year ago that despite the new laws, some parents would have no alternative but to go to court in a bid to see their children. That appears to be the case for Ethan’s father, Roger Williams. On May 27 this year a district judge ruled that Ethan should live with Mr Williams after finding that Ms Minnock had made false allegations and obstructed contact between father and son. The judge said that the little boy had been exposed to “emotional harm” by his mother and that she had breached court orders.

Following the judgement, the 35-year-old mother left her home in Highbridge, Somerset with her only child. The pair has not been seen since, but Rebecca’s family were questioned about her whereabouts at Bristol Crown Court, where – in an unusual step – Judge Stephen Wildblood QC relaxed reporting restrictions so that mother and child could be named in the media.

I do not know the full details of this case; however it is clear from reports and the courts’ judgements that Rebecca was attempting to block Mr Williams’ contact with Ethan – although at one stage his son lived with him four nights a week.

Ms Minnock has told the media that she feels “let down” by courts and social workers, but knows she will be caught and will be “in trouble”.  Deciding on where a child should live if there is a dispute between the parents is traumatic for all involved, but taking the law into your own hands is not the answer. Rebecca Minnock could faces charges for contempt of court and runs the risk of losing her child permanently. Her family and friends face possible perjury charges if they have not been honest about what’s happening and the whereabouts of Ethan and Rebecca.

I hope that Rebecca Minnock and little Ethan will be found soon and that this heart-wrenching story makes other separating parents put aside their differences in the best interests of their children.

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