When one speaks of a missing person one imme­diately thinks of either an abducted person or someone who just went missing – either escaped from home, work, country... The people that go missing can be somebody’s daughter or son, somebody’s father or mother or somebody’s friend. The list can go on. However, not everyone who goes missing does so unconsciously and the same can be said to the ones who do not do it consciously.

In the case of parents, when their marriage breaks down, it does not mean they stop being parents. The marriage broke down and their obligation to cohabit has thus stopped. However, the obligation to remain a parent has not. Unfortunately, sometimes, there are cases in separations when some separated parents unconsciously drift away from their children.

There have even been cases where the children grow up without actually remembering, or just have a faint, blurred memory of, their parent. There are also cases where, as a result of pique and spite, one of the parents determinately does not allow contact to be made by the children with the other parent.

However, sometimes it may not be a result of pique and spite but can be due to fear, fear that if the other parent comes in contact with the child that other parent will abduct the child, particularly if the other parent is a foreigner (obviously, that does not sanction not allowing the child to be in contact with the other parent because, at law, there are legal methods to prevent the child from going abroad with the said other parent). Other types of fear may be more serious: if the other parent is violent and likes to hit the child, or a parent who interrogates the child whenever s/he comes to visit, thus leaving the child with a very bitter taste.

Another type of fear may be due to psychological factors or some ingrained irrational concern. Sometimes, when the child spends time with the (paternal) grandparents instead of with the father, then the mother would not let them visit the grandparents because, in her opinion, the access is only allowed to the father and since he is not “using” it but is simply “dumping” the children with the grandparents, then they do not need to go to access visits any more. In this case, the father is “missing” through his own fault and even through the fault of his wife because, first of all, the mother has no right to decide unilaterally to stop visitation rights. Perhaps the father, at that particular time, could be working overtime and it won’t do to change the visitation dates when this is merely a temporary measure.

Obviously, separations are fraught with emotions and, sometimes, the parents might be egged on by their friends and their family.

Sometimes a parent goes “missing” when s/he decides unilaterally to stop seeing the children and to start a new family. This does happen and the psychological impact on the children is not minimal. When two persons become parents they have obligations, not towards each other, not to themselves either, but towards their children. The children will always remain theirs and no one should shift the blame of separation onto them.

This is easier said than done because separation is far from being a pleasant cup of tea and when grave and serious reasons exist, which give rise to such separation, this is even more so. Let’s say, for example, the son is the splitting image of his father, personality-wise and image-wise. His father was a dictatorial, tyrannical, my-way-or-the-high-way kind of guy who terrorised his family. Finally, the wife plucked up enough courage to leave him and eventually they separated. The son might be exhibiting some of his father’s characteristics or perhaps simply the way he looks, the way he talks... small but significant things that constantly remind the mother of her husband and, thus, slowly and unconsciously she might start resenting the son because she sees in him her husband and, eventually, abandons him with his grandparents. Thus, the child might end up with both parents “missing”.

Sometimes a “missing” parent could be the result of being an unknown parent, where the parent is truly not known and, thus, the child is brought up in a single-parent family.

Whenever a parent does a “vanishing” act or is being forced to be a “missing” parent, the children aren’t the only ones being hurt. The “missing” parent is also hurting himself or herself because they are not only depriving, or being forced to deprive, their children of fatherly or motherly love but are also depriving themselves or being denied the love and joy of having their children around them.


Dr Mangion is a lawyer and a published author with a special interest in family and child law.