On 7 June 2016, Anna Burbidge, LLLGB’s PR & Media representative, and Helen Butler, LLLGB’s Company Secretary, attended a meeting at Portcullis House in London, organised by Legal Action for Women. The focus of the meeting was on how difficult it can be for mothers who are caught up in the legal system and how the importance of the mother/child relationship can be ignored or disregarded. Women often find themselves at a disadvantage in court because they cannot afford legal representation.
The meeting participants discussed many areas where mothers have found themselves separated from their children, and looked at how much better it would be to offer support to women in difficult situations and acknowledge the significance of a child being with its mother.
Breastfeeding and the legal system
Crossroads Women’s Centre offers support to women who are facing legal issues and can go to court with them as “McKenzie Friends” (a litigant is usually entitled to have either lay or professional assistance in a court of law in England and Wales). McKenzie Friends can be actual friends and do not have to be legally qualified, but they often have some knowledge of the area being discussed.
The Women’s Centre has noticed an increase in shared contact cases involving breastfed babies, where the woman’s partner is asking for overnight or unreasonable contact which will affect the breastfeeding relationship. Women are sometimes accused of using breastfeeding as a way of limiting contact. The significance of nursing to both mother and child is not valued and the trauma of separation can be ignored.
Mothers can also be at a disadvantage as they often parent alone, while fathers may have a new partner or mother to look after the child.
Legal Action for Women says that motherhood needs to be respected, valued and supported by society. The move towards equality doesn’t mean diminishing the role of a mother.
What can be done
The meeting participants felt that it was important to identify problems in the legal system which result in considerable difficulties for mothers, and for organisations to work together to find the appropriate solutions. Speakers from both the legal and social care protection worlds spoke of the need for change. Forming an international network of people who can offer help would be another positive move. Collective self-help and support by people with influence are both needed.
This was a very moving discussion which highlighted the difficulties women can face and the need for changes.
For more information on breastfeeding and contact cases:
Anna Burbidge, 2016