It’s like being caught in a net under water. 

You just have to stop struggling and stay very still,

and eventually you float back to the top

Sarah, a family law solicitor, told me her story which is sadly typical of many I hear and confirms my view that what I call “child power” is about the only thing that works in family courts at the moment.  You may think Sarah would have had an advantage in the family court, but that wasn’t the case at all.  Here’s her story:

“He was controlling and manipulative; he was bullying and threatening and he was totally self-centred. I never thought it at the time but the reality was that over the years I was abused. I coped with it on a daily basis as part of my “to do” list – feed the cat, take the kids to school, placate the sociopathic husband…….I never thought about it because abuse was something that happened to my clients, not to me.

By the time I worked up the courage to leave him I was having a full-scale nervous breakdown. The family “home” was like fort Knox as he was in the security business and there were cameras and locks and triggers all over the house, which I knew not how to work. My passport was in a locked gun room in the garage: it was full of guns and bullet making equipment behind a huge metal door. I lay awake at night too scared to sleep. Whenever I did I woke in a sweat imagining him standing over me with a shot gun.

It seemed as though I had got out but I had not: it was the beginning of years of abuse by my ex using the courts against me. I thought that the legal system would help me: I assumed that as I was the victim the court would “sort him out”. But within the court proceedings I was disbelieved, punished and found to be a monster.  The court viewed me as a professional woman “in the trade” who “should know better”. I was accused of using my professional knowledge of what “sometimes happens” in order to throw allegations at my ex-husband.

Initially he was awarded 40% of the time with the children. CAFCASS saw him as a loving father who was not being given the opportunity to have a relationship with them by their mother. After that order, when he no longer saw any reason to put on his act, the children were refusing to go with him so I reapplied to reduce the time they spent with him. Then it was “game on” again for him and he was back to persuading the children that he was a great father. He claimed that I was emotionally abusing the children. There was a guardian and children’s solicitor but they did not listen to the children. They decided that I was a hostile mother and the court ordered the children to live with their father.

The adversarial system played right into my ex-husband’s strengths – a great game which he could play to win. CAFCASS and the professionals were quick to believe him because he was charming and believable and he convinced them that I was bad because I was suffering from mental and emotional illness. His story seemed the “norm” and mine did not. No one stopped to consider the risk he posed to two innocent children if what I said was true, and I was not given a chance to prove that it was.

My legal team let me down: they had no clue about what was happening or how to deal with my matter and I lost at every hearing. Initially, a London barrister gave bad advice and things went badly as a result. I lost my cool and was upset and angry, and the lady solicitor who attended court sacked me!  I had no representative and the barrister who’d given advice would not talk to me. The next solicitor removed detailed information and evidence from my statements and left me being accused by the judge of being “fanciful”.

I felt as though I was in a net under the water and the more I struggled the more the net tightened and dragged me down. There was no way to struggle out.

Eventually I gave up the fight within the court as there was no sense or reason to be found there – and certainly not justice. When my ex-husband got custody, I knew he wouldn’t want the children. It was his worst nightmare having to care for anyone else, let alone two young children who needed looking after on a daily basis.

I stayed still and let the water consume me. I eventually floated to the surface and drew breath.

With the transfer of residence things got worse and worse for my children living at their father’s house. He grabbed my son from behind a chair and threw him onto the floor; my son ran away from the house. My daughter was thrown on the bed by her father and both children called the police as they felt threatened. But neither the police nor social services believed them as it was assumed that I had “put them up to it”. I was worried sick for them.

Then my 10 year old son, who has Asperger’s syndrome, decided that he was not going to live with his dad anymore and sorted out residence himself.  He went mad and had an episode at school.  Dad was called to collect a small blonde whirlwind child much like a Tasmanian devil. My son swore at his father, poking him in the face; he rampaged through the house and made his dad miserable throughout that day. It was 4.55pm when my ex phoned to ask me to take them back. They had been with him for less than 4 months.”


“Child power” at it’s best!  Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, and when you hit rock bottom, the only way is up.

I love Sarah’s metaphor of being trapped in a net. I use a metaphor process with clients who are stuck or don’t know which way to turn, as well as people who can’t decide whether to stay or go.  If you’re feeling confused or frantic please contact me to arrange a free 20 minute call to see if the metaphor process could help you.