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'I witnessed abominable prejudice and abuse in the family courts. I had to keep fighting for my kids'

Divorced dads have a legal right to their kids, but the emotional maelstrom of marital breakdown and a family court system that favours mothers means it doesn’t always happen.

Image: Shutterstock/KonstantinChristian

THE PROUDEST DAYS of my life were, without doubt, the days my three children were born. I was a natural at being a father. I embraced each and every moment and gave my all. I was an involved, hands-on dad from day one.

My family was complete. I was so happy. We led a normal, happy, busy life. I worked hard and we had a decent enough lifestyle. The children were happy. They did the normal activities and they did well at school. However, my world fell apart when I started to notice personality changes in my wife.

Relationship breaking down

On a daily basis, I began to see serious bouts of paranoia, false allegations, pathological jealousy and impulsive decision-making. I was desperately worried for my kids, my wife, my family unit. Everything I had was slipping away. It was frightening.

It started with little things and progressed to more sinister accusations. The more I tried to appease her, the more she started to accuse me. It seemed to be a vicious circle. She was “seeing” my car, where my car had never been. “People” were telling her “things”. She couldn’t leave the house to go to the local shop as “people” were coming up to her and telling her to “wake up and smell the coffee”.

I knew it all to be false. I was frightened. She began telling me that the kids were “afraid of me”. I was beginning to feel a bit beside myself. I was questioning my own sanity and reality. It affected me very badly.

Starting to speak out

I was of the opinion that everything would be okay. After all, there were services there to help in difficult times. Didn’t I have close family members? I believed that speaking about my problems would be a step in the right direction. Little did I know that the wheels of a very sinister smear campaign were very much in motion.

I went to see the family GP. I had a good relationship with him and I trusted him. I told him of my worries and concerns and how it was all impacting on our lives. He looked at me and his words sent a chilling feeling through me. “I know all about it,” he said, “She’s very upset. What are you going to do about it?”

I was in a daze. What was going on? My wife had obviously been to see the GP and managed to smear, defame and demonise me. Why was my insight not considered? Was I not also his patient? It was all very unsettling.

My story was minimised, trivialised and rubbished by a health professional, a supposedly caring individual. Where was his duty of care towards me?

My support system had fallen apart

It was time to involve family members. I couldn’t possibly cope by myself. I had a great relationship with my siblings. I needed someone to confide in. I needed advice, help, guidance and most of all someone to listen.

I began to notice that my family members were pulling away from me. My work colleagues were amazing and still are though. My workplace has always been my sanctuary, my oasis of calm where I have functional relationships with adults.

My personal life was in tatters but the support I got from my work colleagues was truly inspirational. It kept me going. I looked forward to going into work where I knew I had the support of kind, caring individuals.

Eventually, I involved social workers

shutterstock_400391173 Source: Shutterstock/Oleksandr Rybitskiy

I believed they would help to bring normality back. How wrong I was. They spoke to my wife and reported back. I had to run from the family home as I couldn’t take it. I was devastated.

It felt like I was in some kind of twilight zone, a parallel universe. My children were distraught. My wife brought it through the courts. I became an instant “visitor” to my children. I lost all I had. I was literally reduced to the shirt on my back.

The courts exacerbated the situation by siding with my ex-wife. I tried and tried to have more access to my children. I was denied at every juncture. I witnessed abominable prejudice, bias and downright abuse in the family courts. I decided I had to keep fighting.

Many other men in similar circumstances were giving up on their children or giving up on life itself. I decided to sack my solicitor and represent myself. It couldn’t be any worse. I refused to play the game and fund an abusive, biased system that was designed to heap abuse on men or fathers and, indirectly, innocent children.

I was engaging with other men in similar situations. Their stories bore remarkable similarities: supervised visits with their children (no overnights), assessments, loss of assets and practically kangaroo courts. There seemed to be a pattern. Most of these fathers were experiencing the same thing.

Negotiating the system’s hoops

I had been made jump through several hoops by the system: psychiatric and psychological assessment, attending a men’s domestic violence group and supervised visits with my children.

All my assessments were clear. The men’s domestic violence group refused to see me, having heard my story. They were shocked that I had been sent along by social workers. It wasn’t enough. The social workers, my ex-wife and, consequently, the family courts, kept the pressure on. It was like they wanted me to break or relinquish all rights to my children.

I kept going back to court for more access to my children, only to be met with more and more false allegations. The nightmare was relentless. My children were suffering. I could see it. I could feel it. I was completely powerless. It was killing me inside.

I was financially ruined but it was only money. Emotionally, I was running on empty. I pined for access to my children. My children pined for access to a good, decent, loving, caring dad.

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I stayed the course

I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I now see my children regularly. We have a great relationship. But we still have a long way to go.

The system is stacked against any father who dares to challenge the status quo. The system cares little for the children involved. They are merely pawns in a broken, money-hungry, biased and desperately corrupt kangaroo family court system.

What was the turning point? How did I manage to stem the tide? I took on my own case and began to show how my children were paramount and central in all of this. I was able to show that the chaos all around me was manufactured.

My assessments came back as normal. Professionals were seeing that the stories didn’t stack up and were reporting back. I challenged social worker reports that were replete with lies and false allegations and appealed a Section 47 report (regarding extended access) to the High Court.

I won my case

I won my case and was awarded more extended access. I took a successful case against a biased family court judge that resulted in them stepping down from my case.

I remained steadfast in telling the truth and, always, kept the best interests of the children at heart. I also took the sound advice of the professionals in the men’s domestic violence group who saw me for that initial assessment. They advised me to seek immediate trauma counselling for emotional abuse. I did. It really made a difference.

I still have a long way to go. Daily life is a struggle. I am doing my best to pick up the pieces of my shattered life as I contemplate the prospect of long-term counselling. I am doing my best to help my children, however, I’m aware of the emotional impact it all has on them. That weighs heavily on me.

I am one of the lucky ones

I now realise that I am one of the lucky ones. I survived the onslaught that is the Irish family law system. I will continue to seek justice for myself and my children in a broken, dysfunctional and abusive system.

I am now helping other fathers who are caught in the same inescapable trap. I know how hard and unjust the system is and I am aware that many, many fathers succumb to it.

The writer of this piece has requested to remain anonymous. He is a helper in Mens Human Rights Ireland - an advocacy group for men’s rights.

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