Writer and broadcaster

I feel bad that my daughter doesn’t want to see her father. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

I have full custody of my 13-year-old daughter after a court ruling abroad – where we used to live. Her father physically abused me. His relationship with our daughter has been extremely inconsistent. He would often drop out of contact for several months – sometimes years – and then reappear hoping that he could just make up for lost time. This destroyed any confidence she had in him and in their relationship, and she is now wary of her father.

We now live with my new husband in Scotland. My ex moved to England. I have been facilitating contact between our daughter and other members of my ex’s family – her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We tried to get her to see her dad over the summer but it was extremely awkward. He, unfortunately, put a lot of pressure on her to see him more and she had to eventually tell him she had no interest.

I can tell that this really upset him. He also became somewhat irate about our decision to stay permanently in the UK so that she can finish her education here. He seems not to understand that this is what my having custody means.

My new husband and I have brought her up since she was very young. All we get from my ex are occasional threats of legal action alternated with entreaties to get our daughter to see him, speak to him or write to him.

We do ask her to try to make contact with him once every three weeks or so, just to reassure him she is OK, but she refuses, especially after last summer’s miserable attempt at contact.

Should I stop pushing my daughter and can I stop feeling guilty about the rift between them? My ex’s family have been supportive of my decisions. I know it sounds weird, but I feel really bad for my ex. The rejection of a child would be painful to endure.

It would be, but that is not entirely unwarranted in this case. I am all for both parents being involved in a child’s life after separation. I know lots of men and women who have fought hard to retain contact with their children, and rightly so. But in some cases contact is too damaging to the child and it sounds like this might be the case – from what you have told me – here.

According to the details in your letter, it’s your ex who has screwed up and I don’t see why your child should be used as a sort of salve to make him feel better. Your daughter has made it abundantly clear that she doesn’t want to see him – he has a violent past and has behaved inconsistently towards her. Having been in an abusive relationship, I think there may be part of you that still feels you can “save” your ex. He needs to save himself. He doesn’t have to close the door on his daughter – he can write to her (if they are loving, constructive letters, not abusive or damaging and if your daughter wishes to receive them). But you need to listen to her and not try to assuage any kind of guilt you may be feeling.

I spoke to John Fotheringham, of BTO Solicitors in Edinburgh, who has more than 30 years’ experience in child and family law, and it is with his help that I address the legal aspects of your letter. Not that you are asking for legal advice, but I think it’s important to address the situation from this viewpoint too.

In this case, the law applies to the child’s habitual residence. So the court ruling – which took place abroad – does not apply here. Your ex does have a parental right of contact (anyone could, in theory, apply for parental right of contact but this is limited by the criterion of best interests of the child) but your ex would have to apply to the sheriff court for contact.

In this case, the court would look at two things: what is in the best interests of the child in terms of welfare and the child’s own view, if she wishes to express it. In Scotland, a child of your daughter’s age is considered old enough to express a view on the matter. It’s extremely unlikely that a court would grant her father contact from what you have told me.

Continue to put your child first in this situation between you and your ex. You are in touch with your ex’s wider family – this is tremendously important.

Your daughter may change her mind in time about what sort of contact she wants with her father. Once she is 16, of course (18 in England), it will be entirely up to her.

Some details have been changed


This first appeared in Guardian Family on 7 March 2014.