Written agreements, love and difficult choices in care proceedings.
This written agreement is prepared and entered into by the parents of Rose Smellsweet Capulet
It is accepted that the father of Rose, Romeo Montague, will live apart from Rose and the mother, Juliet Capulet, whilst assessments are undertaken of him.
It is accepted that there is a need to undertake such assessments based on these three factors :-
(i) The age of Juliet when the relationship began, she being thirteen(nearly fourteen) at the time
(ii) The conflict and tension between the paternal and maternal family
(iii) The incident where Romeo is alleged to have stabbed Juliet’s cousin Tybalt
(iv) The incident where it is alleged that both parents planned to commit suicide
The parents agree :-
- That Romeo will not visit the home of Juliet.
- That he will not visit the immediate boundaries of Juliet’s home (this having been added due to incidents where he was singing up at her balcony)
- That all contact between Romeo and Rose will be supervised by the Local Authority
- That Romeo and Juliet will not have communication face to face, or by letter, text message, email, instant messaging, , Lutebook or through intermediaries such as Nurse or Benvolio.
- That this written agreement will be reviewed once Dr Falstaff’s risk assessment has been received.
Ridiculous, of course, but some serious points emerge.
Within care proceedings, it is often the case that one parent is asked to separate, either temporarily or permanently , from another parent who they love, as a result of a risk posed by that parent to the safety of a child.
It is hoped that once assessments are in, or factual allegations determined, that the parents will be able to resume that relationship, with either there being no risk or the risk being determined as one which can be safely managed or reduced with specialist help. But that doesn’t always happen.
Sometimes the care proceedings and decisions about the future turn on whether a parent can stick to their word and stay away from the risky partner.
[I am trying hard within this piece not to fall into the stereotypical pitfall of implying that it is always safe mums and risky dads, although that is the more common category we see, I have had significant numbers of safe dads and risky mums too, and of course risky dads and risky mums in the same case]
There are really only three options where one parent is found to be a risk (and where the risk is determined to be substantial):-
- Let mum and dad look after the child together and take that risk that the child will be harmed
- Remove the child from harm and the mum and dad can live together but without the baby
- Ask the parents to live apart and for the child to live with the safe parent and manage the contact with the risky parent
Frankly, none of these are ideal, and the third one is the compromise position that is often reached, not as the best, but the least worst of the three.
Now, onto the points the fake written agreement is trying to touch on by using Romeo and Juliet as the particular example.
I think most people in the Western world would agree that Romeo and Juliet is one of our touchstones of romantic love and what it means to be in love. It means intensity, it means passion, it means one person in the entire world who is the one for you. It means not being kept apart, no matter how much external forces try to split you up. It means being bound together being unable to live if not with the person you love. It may even mean that if the world says you can’t be together you must keep your love a secret.
The way the world sees and sells love, it is that consuming passion, the fire that burns within us.
All of which are really bad for option 3 above.
How realistic is it, really, to ask two people who are genuinely in love to be apart for the sake of a child when neither of them really wants to end the relationship? No matter what someone external might see as inherent crappiness of their relationship or how one partner “could do so much better” the truth of the matter is that for THOSE people, that love is real and vivid and powerful and emotional and painful as it is for any one of us who has ever been in love.
The point of using Romeo and Juliet is to remind ourselves that these parents in any particular case that we are looking at, are in love, bound up with another person, with all that this means. It is easy enough to look at it purely from the outside and say “of course he should leave this woman, she is awful to him and so dangerous to the child, it’s a no-brainer” but you have to remind yourself that love and logic are strange bedfellows, and that for these people, their feelings and emotions and pain are just the same as yours would be, if you found yourself in that awful dilemma.
It is very hard to countenance, if you try to put yourself in these parents shoes for a moment, ending that relationship because someone else tells you that you should. It is hard to end a relationship when you really want to, harder still when the other person ends it and you weren’t at that same place. It is almost inconceivable to think of ending a relationship when the flames in both your hearts haven’t gone out.
That’s not to say that it is the wrong thing to do – looking at the three options above, the third is the least damaging for the child, who gets to live safely with one parent.
Just that really, what we ask of parents in this situation, whether we be social workers, experts, lawyers, family members or even the Courts, is HARD. It might actually be the hardest thing that the parent will ever have to do in their life, and for that reason, it is not surprising that often these imposed separations don’t work out.
They crumble, or sometimes the risky parent (who after all has lost their lover but not gained a child) applies pressure for the relationship to continue, or attempts are made to keep the relationship going in secret.
The temptation to introduce an option 4 to that unappealing list
4. The child lives with the safe parent, and so far as social services and the court are concerned, the relationship is over, but we keep it going and don’t get caught
Must be a massive one.
[Actually, I think the word “clandestine” is probably used more in care proceedings than any other walk of life, for exactly that reason. ]
The other, slightly cheap shot, reason for using Romeo and Juliet to illustrate this piece, is that our greatest imagery of love and passion, our Platonic ideal of it if you like, is involving a young man pursuing a 13 year old girl….
[There’s probably a whole other piece on looking at the examples people would give of “famous or inspiring lovers” - Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Heathcliffe and Cathy, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, whoever the heck the couple are in Les Miserables, Peter Venkman and Dana Barratt, Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, Lancelot and Guinevere, Juliet Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy…. They are all pretty dysfunctional couples and a heck of a lot of hearts get broken or even stopped along the way]