Title:A Plain Letter to the Lord Chancellor on the Infant Custody Bill .
Author:Norton, Caroline Sheridan, 1808–1877.
Source:London : James Ridgway, 1839. 124 p.Genre:lettersprose
Subject:Children–Legal status, laws, etc.–Great BritainInfants–Legal status, laws, etc.–Great BritainParent and child (Law)–Great Britain
But even this injustice, gross as it is that a woman should be virtually tried and virtually condemned, while she is in fact deprived of the power of rebutting the slanders brought against her, even this injustice will not be held by women to equal that which they endure with respect to their children. A woman may bear cheerfully the poverty which anomalies in the laws of property may entail upon her; and she may struggle patiently through such an unjust ordeal of shame as Lord Brougham described; but against the inflicted and unmerited loss of her children she cannot bear up; that she has not deserved that blow, only adds to its bitterness: it is the master feeling of her life; the strong root of all the affections of her heart; and, in spite of the enumeration of every real or fancied grievance incidental to her position, she will still hold that injustice to stand foremost, distinct, and paramount above them all. She is not left to the exercise of despotic power on the part of her husband as regards property, for the law compels him to provide for her; she is not left to his despotic power in the matter of personal violence and cruelty, for she can obtain a divorce, though it be only a divorce â mensâ et thoro. It is in the single point of her children that she is entirely without remedy: it is in the single point of her children that her innocence or her ill‐usage avail nothing: how then can this be rated with instances in which it is expressly understood that she will be protected if she can prove herself blameless and ill‐used! I do not say that, in spite of this understand‐page: 12ing, there may not be very many cases of great injustice and suffering in these other instances, which the law cannot or does not touch; but I assert that it is not intended or admitted that women shall be without remedy in these cases: on the contrary, there is an attempt at protection; and there is no attempt at protection in such cases as would come under the Infant Custody Bill.
The principal objections which have been urged against establishing such a power of protection as would enable separated mothers to appeal successfully to courts of law, are as follows:—
I. That it would encourage and increase separations between married couples, by removing the great check which the knowledge of the loss of her children at present imposes on the wife.
II. That it would be impossible to carry such a measure into execution from the difficulty the courts would have in deciding domestic quarrels, and the determined resistance which would be made by fathers to legal interference in such matters.
III. That the result of access (if it could be enforced against the will of the father,) would probably, if not certainly, be the abduction of the children, whom the mother would thus have an opportunity of carrying away.
IV. That as the decisions would be grounded on affidavits made by the suffering party, it would afford a temptation to perjury; and that a woman who was guilty, though not convicted of misconduct, might obtain access by these affidavits.page: 13
V. That it will render reconciliations less probable.
VI. That it will disturb the education of the children under the father’s exclusive care.
There are other, more technical objections, such as the number of judges who were to have this power of decision; which Lord Lyndhurst met, by stating it to be his intention to confine the power to the three Equity Judges. These I shall pass over in silence, as being objections merely to the form of the measure of protection; and proceed to review in order those which are against the spirit of such a measure.
I. The first objection, namely, that ALLOWING ACCESS WILL ENCOURAGE SEPARATIONS, by removing the check which the knowledge of the loss of her children has hitherto imposed on the wife, is easily and decisively answered. That check cannot be said to be removed which never existed; and it is certain that so far from women in general being aware, that by separating themselves from their husbands they also eternally separated themselves from their children; the general impression was (not only among women, but among two‐thirds of those who are now called to legislate upon this question), that until seven years of age the mother could claim the sole custody of her infant, and that after that age circumstances would regulate her intercourse with it. Till the painful disclosures consequent on the discussion of this Bill, were made; it never was publicly known or understood that the father had a right to deprive his wife of her infant