When families are split apart by divorce – or simply relationship breakdown for unmarried couples – there is no question that younger children suffer more than anyone else. No matter how hard it is on the grown-ups involved, the children’s world will never be the same. Everything they have known will be blown apart.
When this happens, and assuming a “normal” situation whether there are two supportive parents and no specific reason that one should be excluded from a child’s life (and that doesn’t include spite on the part of one of the adults), no matter with whom they reside, they should have regular contact with the absent parent. That is actually physical, direct contact, so they can see each other, go to the park, go shopping – do whatever they like.
So I was puzzled slightly at the readiness by our leading family judge Sir Nicholas Wall to agree that Skype is an acceptable form of contact for fathers.
The President of the High Court Family Division refused to block plans by a man’s former lover to start a new life in Australia, saying it was in her two young children's “best interests” and that dad could stay in touch via Skype. He overturned a ruling last year by Judge David Tyzack QC, sitting at Exeter County Court, which banned the mother's "relocation" plans.
I’m sure you already know but Skype is a free form of video calling online. It means families and friends stretched across long distances can stay in good contact better than ever before.
Now, I am not saying that the decision is wrong. Sir Nicholas appears to have the interests of the children at the centre of the decision, which is where they should be. The woman was keen to emigrate because she had become "isolated, trapped and depressed” in Britain – and the children were keen to go with her. But dismissing contact issues by simply saying they can talk on Skype and that is enough, seems flippant in the circumstances.
As acknowledged by the judges in the case, whichever decision was reached, either supporting the father or the mother, it would be devastating to one side or the other. There is no doubt about that. Using Skype as a way of softening the blow for the dad though is clumsy at best and it was naïve to think this would not grab the headlines.
We see so many cases whether one parent or other shows no interest in supporting or having a relationship with the children. In this case it is heartbreaking that a father who made an appeal from the heart to stay close to his kids and nurture an “embryonic” relationship, should be denied the chance. Skype calls will be no substitute.