Laura Johnson – solicitor in the Private Client team – on Rebecca Minnock & Ethan

I am sure that you will have seen the on the news the reports about Rebecca Minnock running away with her son, Ethan, following a judgement ordering Ethan to live with his father, Roger Williams. It is the events that followed the judgement in this case that made it so unusual and have resulted in it making the news, but it is a sad truth that it is all too common for parents to experience a bitter fall out when it comes to making arrangements for the children following separation.

Parents can find it difficult to separate their feelings towards their ex-partner and the child’s need to spend quality time with both parents. We often see parents deliberately making contact very difficult and the underlying reason is to punish or cause upset to their ex-partner. This is not in the best interests of the child or children involved. We always try to encourage parents to come to terms with separation in an appropriate way and we discuss ways parents can seek support. If parents have processed or come to terms with the separation then it is much easier for them to reach a workable agreement relating to the children. After all, a Judge has to cut through the issues that the parents have between themselves and make a workable order for the children to have quality time with both parents.

It might not always be an equal division of time and parents might come away feeling aggrieved with the Order, but it is so important for each parent to focus on the time that they will spend with the children rather than assess it as a “victory or a loss”. Arrangements for children will inevitably change as they grow older and routines change so it is much better for parents to be able to work together amicably rather than resort to Court.

In this case, Rebecca and Roger separated in February 2013. Ethan has always lived with Rebecca and she has made it very difficult for Roger to have contact with Ethan. Roger therefore applied for a contact order in March 2013 and there has been heavily contested litigation since then. On 27th May 2015, a Judge ordered that Ethan should live with Roger. The Judge had to make this decision based on what was going to be in the best interests of Ethan’s welfare. The starting position is that Ethan should have contact time with both parents. There is no law about who the child should live with and how the time should be split; the Judge will apply this to each family’s circumstances. Rebecca had obstructed Roger from having contact with Ethan despite there being no welfare issues relating to Roger’s ability to look after Ethan. Rebecca had also made false allegations against Roger, which are likely to have been in an attempt to suggest Roger could not look after Ethan.

The Judge was persuaded that instead of Rebecca prioritising Ethan’s need to have quality contact time with both parents, she was actually prioritising her own feelings towards Roger and wanting to cause him upset by refusing him contact time with Ethan. The Judge presumably felt that Ethan would only be able to have contact with both parents if he lived with Roger and he would facilitate contact with Rebecca. If Rebecca had demonstrated throughout the proceedings that she had encouraged Ethan having regular contact with Roger then she might have had a stronger case for Ethan to continue living with her.

It is so important for separating parents facing difficulties to seek support and advice from professionals. A solicitor can guide parents in the right direction and advise about the likely outcome would be if it went to Court and then a solicitor can advise you about ways to seek a more flexible and workable outcome without having to go to the stress and expense of a final Court hearing. Other professionals, such as mediators and counsellors, can also help parents come to terms with the separation and focus on the child’s needs to help bring a more harmonious approach to making arrangements for the child.

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