We all make mistakes
A Scottish judge explains her decision by letter
In March of 2017, at the end of a particularly bitter custody case that resulted in the father being granted indirect contact with his three children, a clinical psychologist advised the presiding judge, Sheriff Aisha Anwar1, to break from tradition and delicately communicate the Scottish court’s decision to those children by letter. She agreed with the recommendation, and her letter was then read to the children by the psychologist. With the names of all parties anonymised, Sheriff Anwar’s missive was then published by the court to wide acclaim. It read as follows.
Dear Julie and Brian
My name is Sheriff Anwar.
Your mum and dad have asked me to make a decision on whether you should see your dad.
I think that as my decision is all about you, it is only fair that I should write to you.
I have not met you, but I have heard a lot about you. You mum has told me all about how you are getting on at school and about your likes and dislikes. Your dad has told me about all the things you used to do together.
Your mum and dad have also told me about the problems they have had with each other after they split up. Sometimes, when parents split up it is very hard for them to stay friends. Your mum and dad have found it very hard to stay friends. Sometimes when people are no longer friends, they can say some nasty things about each other. They forget what is good about each other. That is not right and it is not nice. It shouldn’t happen. You should not have to hear any of that. That is for the adults to sort out.
I have listened carefully to what everyone has said. It’s my job to listen carefully and then decide what is best for you.
Your mum, dad, and other members of your family have all spoken to me. I have also listened to what Dr Khan has said. I know, from what your mum and Dr Khan have told me, that you don’t want to see your dad.
I can understand that. Your dad’s job is to care for you, protect you, love you, help you, make good plans for you and to know what is right for you. Sometimes, he has not been very good at that. He has locked you in your rooms when you have been naughty and you haven’t liked that. He has sworn at you sometimes and you haven’t liked that. When you were younger, he washed you and he was a bit rough, and you didn’t like that. He asked Mrs McCormick to move into his house and he took her on holiday with you, without telling you first. He should not have done that. That was not fair of him. He should have talked to you first so that you knew what was happening and why.
But I don’t believe that your dad meant to hurt you or to be mean to you in doing the things that he has done. I believe that he did not really think about how you would feel. That does not make him a bad dad. I know that there are lots of things that you did together that you really enjoyed, like playing in the garden, skiing and going on holidays. I know that he used to help you with homework, make your dinner and pick you up from school. I know that he has kept in touch with the school to learn about your progress.
There is a good side to your dad. He really wants to make things better with you. He wants to be your dad. He wants to love and care for you. He wants to spend time with you. He has told me that he will do anything he has to do to make things right.
I think that your dad needs some help to understand how you are feeling and to understand how he can be a better dad to you. I think that your dad needs some help to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes. I have asked him to get that help and he has agreed. He might also, sometimes, need some help from you to understand how you feel.
I think your mum also needs some help to be better able to support you and to be more positive about your dad. She has agreed. I hope that she will now focus on helping you to see the good in your dad. She has told me that she will support you in getting to know your dad again, if that is what I decide is the right thing for you.
I have also asked your mum and dad to get some help so that they can talk to each other again, even if they can’t be good friends.
So, I have thought about all of this very carefully. I have especially thought about how you feel.
I don’t think that it is good for you to grow up thinking you have a bad dad. I don’t think that it is good for you to forget all the good times. I don’t think that is it good for you to think that your dad meant to hurt you, when he didn’t. I think that it is better for you to get to know your dad again and to give him a chance to make things better.
I have asked Dr Khan to meet with you and to help you to understand my decision. I have decided that your dad should write to you once a month, so that you can start to get to know each other again. I hope that you will feel able to write back to him.
We all make mistakes. The important thing is that we learn from them. I think your dad has learned from his mistakes.
I hope that my letter explains to you why I have made this decision.
This letter was published online in 2017 by the Scottish Courts, as seen here. All names were changed. Photo above via Getty.