Dear Mrs Macaulay,
My sister died leaving three children. Prior to her death and two years afterwards, the extended family (my parents, my sisters and I) developed a strong bond with the children. Since their birth, our home has been their second home. We have always been a close-knit family. The children were closer to their mother because their father did not spend a lot of time with them although he was within reach. While their mother was still alive, their father brought another woman into the picture. The children’s family relationship disintegrated and they continued to cling to their mother despite her efforts to help them deal with the situation. Their mother grieved about the situation, became ill, and eventually died. The relationship between the children and their father became strained. When he came to pick them up, they cried and begged not to go, and his eldest son would always become angry. He would sit in the car and not speak to his father.
Weeks after my sister’s death, the father started to take the other woman along to pick them up. My niece would cry whenever she saw the woman. She said she does not like having her around since she was the reason her mom grieved herself to death.
One day when he came to pick them up, I told him that while I understand his need for comfort, he should put his children’s needs first by trying to rekindle a relationship with them and getting them some counselling. I pointed to the fact that the children were very close to their mother and the way they were reacting to the present situation. His response was that the children just have to understand.
So they have received no counselling. Instead, he moved the woman in less than a month after my sister’s death. To add insult to injury, he has made another child with this woman. He has been forcing the children to accept her. The bigger children refuse to speak to her or even eat from her. She dictates how much he should spend on them and he complains about the money he has to spend on them. He refuses to take them to the doctor when they are ill, and he bullies them.
Two weeks ago I was told that the children were told by their father not to visit their maternal grandmother’s house anymore. My mother’s house was where they sought solace, felt love, and were understood. While I understand that he is the legal guardian, I cannot understand his rash decision. He said he is their father and he can tell them what to do. Despite their asking to visit on weekends, he has not budged. My mother continues to help the children by cooking their dinner and sending it to them. She was the one who sent them to the doctor recently when they became ill as he claimed to have given them old medicine without even knowing what their diagnosis was.
The 16-year-old son is angry, frustrated and bitter to the point where he has developed a serious stuttering problem and prefers not to speak. This among other reasons has made me develop serious concerns. I am therefore wondering if it is possible to have a social worker assigned to the children, someone who can help them through this difficult time.
I am anxiously awaiting your response.
Your letter created in me a strong feeling of dejavu, because I could not help but remember a case I did many years ago with almost the same facts of the mother becoming sick and dying while the father of the children carried on with a paramour, foisting her on the children and in their lives and home. Like your situation, the children were closer to their mother and their two aunts than to the father. Yet after his wife’s death he assumed a dictatorial role towards them and demonstrated a total lack of sensitivity towards their pain and emotional needs following the death of their mother. In that case, their grandmother’s home was also their refuge, and the father also decided that their visits their should cease. The only difference is that in that particular case he and his woman did not have a child.
The facts that you have related demonstrate that this father is clearly not acting in the best interests of the children. In fact, he is abusing them. Emotional abuse is actually worse than some forms of physical abuse. In addition, he is abusing them physically by refusing to take them to be properly treated when they are ill. His giving them old medication is in fact endangering their lives. He is leaving and has left their welfare in the hands of their maternal grandmother, yet he has barred them from visiting this grandmother in her home where they have throughout their lives enjoyed a loving, nurturing and safe environment.
So what can be done to alleviate the situation for these children? Well, like those in my former case, on my advice, they applied to the Supreme Court for custody, care and control of the children, to be appointed their guardians, and for the father to contribute to their maintenance and for him to have such access to them if the court thought it appropriate. They succeeded and got custody of the children, while the father went on with his life with his paramour without the burden of caring for the children.
Perhaps you and your mother ought to consider making similar applications in order to ensure that the children have a consistent, loving relationship with their grandmother and you rather than living with an indifferent father and ‘stepmother’ while they are clearly in need of care and protection. The children’s interests are certainly not paramount in these people’s lives, and their begrudging attitude towards spending money for their needs is contrary to the principle and standard required for the caring of children in law.
You have mentioned the fact that the 16-year-old son is so angry, frustrated, bitter and unhappy that he now has a serious stuttering problem and so prefers not to speak. The father’s attitude and response were dismissive and cruel when you spoke with him about the children’s situation and suggested that he arrange counselling for them. His attitude was also abusive and a clear denial of their rights to have their best interests as the paramount consideration in the lives of their adult guardians and supposed care-givers .
The social workers are heavily extended with more cases than they can effectively manage, and these children need a quick, definitive decision and action which a court order provides. So I really think that since your mother — the children’s grandmother — who had always enjoyed full and free access to her grandchildren, has been denied this, she either alone or jointly with you ought to apply to be appointed the children’s guardian(s), as well as for custody, care and control of them and for maintenance to be provided by their father. This will effectively remove their father as their guardian and terminate his custody, care and control of them. The law provides for this to be done so that the children’s welfare can be effectively protected. You should also add that he should have such access to them, if and as the court considers appropriate. This latter should be included because you and your mother ought to, as he seems not to want to do, encourage the continuance of a relationship with their father if it will not be detrimental to their best interests.
So please discuss the matter with your mother, and make a decision to act through the court as quickly as you can, so that the unfortunate circumstances of these children can cease.
Best wishes to you all.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women’s and children’s rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to email@example.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.