Runaway mother Rebecca Minnock plagued the news last week after she went into hiding with her son, Ethan, following a judge’s ruling that the child should live with his father.
Rebecca finally handed herself in on 12 June after admitting that she knew she would not be able to hide forever.
During her two weeks in hiding, Rebecca was in touch with the press and explained to them that her actions were a result of her having “lost all faith and trust in the system.” Rebecca tried to justify her decision to hide by claiming that she knew “what is best for Ethan because he is my son,” adding, “I feel social services have let me down and the court has been unfair.”
Rebecca’s attempts to present herself as a victim were quashed on 15 June, when Judge Stephen Wildblood QC spoke in open court, before he held a private hearing in relation to Ethan’s future.
He accused Ms Minnock of trying to manipulate the press with a publicity stunt. He added that she had acted very irresponsibly from the point of view of the child’s welfare.
So what exactly is the truth? Did Ms Minnock act rashly and unreasonably or was she doing what any mother would to protect her child?
Before the case came to the attention of the public, there had been a two-year custody battle between Rebecca and Ethan’s father, Roger Williams.
During this period, Rebecca had attempted to frustrate contact between Ethan and his father by fabricating false allegations about Mr Williams. In addition to this behaviour, Rebecca had also allegedly exposed her son to emotional harm. The risk Ms Minnock posed was highlighted by a social worker whilst she was on the run, who claimed that Ethan was emotionally unsafe with his mother.
Judge Wildblood has allowed Ethan’s father to decide whether Rebecca should face further legal proceedings for defying court orders. If she is found to be in contempt of court, she could be jailed.
Madelaine Hailey of the Kuits Family team feels that this case is an incredibly sad example of an intractable contact dispute gone wrong. She explains: “Intractable contact disputes arise when one parent refuses to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent without reason, often in breach of court orders, to the child’s detriment. Sometimes parents will make profound allegations against the other as a means of ‘justifying’ their actions, which was found to have happened in this case.”
Whilst the initial ruling that Ethan should live with his father must have been extremely difficult for Ms Minnock to deal with, her resulting actions are in no way justified.
The court’s decision for Ethan to live with his father will not have been made lightly and instead the child’s best interests would have been the overriding objective.
Evidence showed that the risk to Ethan’s emotional welfare if he remained with his mother was sufficiently serious enough for the judge to order that Rebecca should only have supervised contact with her son.
Speaking on how the case has been portrayed to the public, Madelaine commented: “What is particularly disappointing about this matter is how the media and, correspondingly, the public at large seem focused on how the justice system failed the mother. The family court’s primary concern is the welfare of the child, not that of the parents. The court has determined that the child’s welfare is best served by being raised by his father, so why do we not accept this?”
She adds: “Recent research has concluded that the family court doesn’t discriminate between parents on the issue of child arrangements. Perhaps, however, the media and society as a whole have yet to catch up.”
Ethan is now back with his father; however, Judge Wildblood said he will do everything possible to ensure that he has an effective relationship with both parents.
Hopefully, Ms Minnock now understands that the best interests of Ethan must be the primary focus of any arrangements made. This matter should also serve as a warning to other parents who believe that child arrangement orders can be flouted.
Katie McCann is head of family law and in-house counsel at Kuits Solicitors in Manchester City Centre. She has a special interest in resolving high value relationship breakdown disputes.