Editorial | When kids don’t come first

Custody disputes are best left out of the press, but when it appears the system is stacked against the kids, something needs to be done

Anyone following along with the comments in response to the coverage on our website of an ongoing custody dispute in Jutland involving an American woman, who is now wanted for allegedly kidnapping her daughter, will be able to tell you that we got some of the facts wrong.

In the online version of our story, we made a few errors that were appropriately pointed out by both parties in the dispute. This is something we apologise for, but instead of just making a public confession and forgetting about the issue, it’s important to use it as a reminder of just how opaque child custody cases can be. 

In this specific case, some will say we should have just waited to report the story until we knew for certain which version was correct – or not report on family disputes entirely. That’s good advice, but to be honest, given the complexity of the case and the he-said-she-said nature of the grievance, it’s hard to imagine anyone but those involved getting the facts entirely right. Given their personal biases in the matter, it’s unlikely they are even aware of the facts anymore. 

Thanks to a tip-off from a reader, the Nørgaard custody dispute is one we have been trying to get to the bottom of since 2011. After poring over reports from doctors, the police and social welfare authorities and also speaking with people involved, our only conclusion was that we had a sad story on our hands that was going to affect two children for much of their lives.

Reporting on the case, even without a clear picture of the facts, was important, since it is far from unique, and since many of our readers could potentially find themselves in the same situation. Foreigners in Denmark, concerned Danes and now the EU are starting to take an interest in Danish custody practices. They are alarmed by an increasing number of complaints lodged by parents – Danish and foreign – who feel the system does not protect the best interest of their children.

One of the culprits is a system designed to give divorced fathers equal parenting rights. This sounds good in theory, but in practice it is doomed to fail. Such a system requires divorced parents to continue co-operating even after they admit they are incompatible.

It’s been repeated multiple times – both on our website and amongst ourselves – that the real victim here is the children. That goes without saying. Divorce is traumatic for any child. But being a part of a highly-publicised marital meltdown that involves allegations of kidnapping and abuse goes well beyond what any child should have to witness. That public officials all the while continue to insist that their divorced parents co-operate as if they were still married only adds insult to their injury.