DadsStory: How the Legal System Failed a Father (Part 2)

Submitted by reader Tim from Chicago

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Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the real-life experience of a divorced dad’s struggles to be with his children. Part 1 explained the beginning of a spiral of legal events and set the stage for the eventual loss of his children. Click here to read.

Anxiety, anticipation, and a bit of fear filled me as I waited to see my kids for the first time in 18 months even if it was a meeting in a doctor’s office.  I had no idea what their reactions would be.  Nineteen months and fourteen days after last hugging them goodbye after dinner, I met with them in the doctor’s office.

The eldest wore sunglasses with the younger one on her lap hiding behind a piece of paper.  They took turns questioning me on things from the past and the fights their mother and I had when they were little.  I apologized for all they’d had been through and promised situations like that would not happen in the future.  Before I knew it, the meeting was over and once again I was separated from my children.

Court went on.  My ex, who was her own counsel, cross-examined me later that spring.  She brought up arguments we’d had as far back as 1999 and tried, to no avail, to prove that these arguments endangered the girls.  She had no witnesses to call on this account since it wasn’t true.  Later that summer, the judge ruled that it was necessary for me to begin at the very least having dinners with my children.

As the day approached for this ruling to go into effect, I learned my ex was filing claims that the judge was biased and should be removed from the case.  Needless to say, everything came to a halt as the legal system did its “duty” and investigated.  Seven weeks later a second judge ruled that the original judge was unbiased and could remain on the case.  Another stall tactic had taken more time away from contact with my children.

Visitation was finally enforced and I was to take the girls to dinner.  I was told to go to my ex’s house and pick up the girls.  If they did not come out, which their mother was to encourage them to do, I was to call the police to write a report that visitation was not being allowed.  Just before the meeting my ex filed a restraining order against me, which was denied by the court the following day.

When I arrived to pick up the girls that fall, they would not come to the door.  In the background I could see my aunt and cousin videotaping everything.  I had to call the police, who came and entered the house alone to persuade the children to come with me, unsuccessfully.  A report was written and I was left to try again another day.   The second attempt went the same.  Nothing more could be done at this point.

More time passed with menial court meetings and no real movement.  In a subsequent court appearance my ex was asked to show the videotapes from my two attempted visits, which she claimed showed me yelling and screaming at the girls.  She objected but was overruled and the tapes were shown.  Of course, it showed none of her claims.

At the end of the day the judge stood up and told my ex she “ought to be ashamed” of herself.  He said the “video tape was appalling to watch” and her job as a mother was to let the girls know they were safe with me and could go to dinner with their own father.  Yet months continued without any contact.  Months later my youngest was in a school performance and my wife and I attended to show our support.   I later sent a card telling her how wonderful she’d done.

Closing remarks were made shortly thereafter.  The judge denied my ex’s attempt to retain no visitation between the girls and I.  Although the judge said I was able to continue my visitation, my attorney and I knew the girls were so programmed by now that no visitation would take place unless it was enforced by the court, which it was not.  And so, doing the best I could, I set up dinner with the girls for a future date only to learn that my ex filed an appeal on the case, putting everything on hold.

Summer arrived, as did my youngest daughter’s middle-school graduation.  When it was over, I approached their mother with a shawl belonging to my daughter.  The girls were 10 feet away and crying, so I did not approach them not wanting to make anything harder on them.  I just hoped that seeing us there would be a statement to them.  It was not until that winter that a court date was secured to fight for mandatory visitation.

Immediately before that date, my ex filed papers asking the Illinois Supreme Court to take over the case.  This once again postponed things another two months while the court viewed the case and eventually refused.  A new date was set for January of the following year, yet that too was canceled as my ex was ill the day of court, something my wife and I could by now predict.

Finally, at the end of January a court date took place and dinner with my children was ruled mandatory.  The judge expressed disappointment in my ex for not encouraging the girls to see me and told her she would be held in contempt if a meeting did not take place immediately.  Dinner dates were set for February, though the first couple were also to be attended by my ex.

At the first dinner they refused to talk, would not order dessert, and barely accepted the half hugs I tried to give them as they left. The second went even worse as they refused to even sit at the table with me and my ex refused to force them.  My attorney filed a motion with the court stating that the girls would not have dinner with me, and visitation was not being enforced by their mother. However, the judge ruled it was not an emergency situation.

By the spring, my ex’s phone had been turned off, cutting another method of communication between the girls and I. Later she filed a motion that I be held responsible for all counseling fees, which the judge approved. By this point, my money was gone, my energy sapped, my wife, whose support had been endless, was getting stomach cramps from the situation, and there was no reconciliation in sight.

By the summer, three years after this all began, I was left with the hardest decision a father can make: continue to fight for my children, or let them go and hope that one day they return on their own.  My heart broke as I chose the latter, and to this day it breaks every time I think of them, every time I send them a card or graduation gift and hear nothing.

A few months ago, I attended my youngest daughter’s high school graduation. Their mother had always said she would not keep me from important events in their lives. I brought my parents and waited outside the gate, only to see my ex pass by with friends, never acknowledging the text I’d sent telling her where I was waiting.

Through great effort, my parents and I scrounged and begged three extra tickets and were there to see my daughter walk the stage. After that we left, not wanting to cause a scene and embarrass her on such an important day. I continue to live my life with the heaviness of loss and disappointment that only a father who loses his children could know.


Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the real-life experience of a divorced dad’s struggles to be with his children. Part 1 explained the beginning of a spiral of legal events and set the stage for the eventual loss of his children. Click here to read.

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8 comments on “DadsStory: How the Legal System Failed a Father (Part 2)

    Response to your Note of Sept 10
    Talk to close friends daily and keep believing that the good lord is watching over all this and one day will both my girls and myself……I also try to remember the good times that we used to have together as father and daughters….Tim

    The decision that Tim made was indeed a hard one, and many others have faced that decision as well. We hope that by reading this story, you can gain a little comfort from the fact that you are not alone in your struggles. Perhaps your story and comments will help another reader who is struggling with the same issue.

    What thoughts and memories have you held onto during these hard times? Although the pain is still there, what have you done to help yourself through making the difficult decisions?

    this prospect scares me to death
    I feel for you. I’m scared to death about the prospect of having to go through what you’ve been through for too long. My wife and I have been seperated for 8 months and she’s been making it very hard for me to visit with our 18month old daughter whom I’ve taken care for of day in day out as a stay-at-home dad until she turned 10 month (when we split). I’m now considering taking legal actions and getting the custody battle started. Your testimony encourages me to fight and keep fighting…Now I know what could be lying ahead for me

    Your story is all too similar to mine, with the major difference being that I did not pursue any forcing (court or police) of my kids to see me when they were making it quite clear that they did not want to. I was a very involved and attentive and loving father; my ex (21 years with her, sons now 17 and 20; divorce final for 18 months and almost three years since IU moved out of the house — NEVER expecting this to happen) states that she is doing plenty to encourage my sons to see me yet I’ve seen just the opposite with my own eyes and ears too many times. I too am at a loss and feel that there’s no hope other than to continue to send weekly letters (son won’t give me his e-mail address or cellphone number, and the home phone has NEVER been answered when I call). It’s so damn sad for these kids when the alienating parent casts their spell and serveds her own sick interests instead of what’s best for the kids. Hang in tghere and do not give up; it’s always darkest before the dawn. And that will be a sunny, wonderful day when it gets here.

    How I sympathise
    Tim, I deeply sympathise and empathise with you. It is the hardest decision to make and one that stays with you for ever. I have not seen my 3 sons (10,13 and 14) and 16 year old daughter for around one and a half years since the separation from my ex wife. Our divorce is finalised, but there is still no contact at all from any of my children to either me or any of my family. Letters go unanswered and if anyone hand delivers presents or anything, my ex calls the police! She has taken them out of the country for a holiday without even informing me, attempted to stop the schools sending me information about their educational progress etc. I started the court process but a social services report basically said that the children don’t want to see me. So what sane judge would make an order contravening that? So, to avoid making it worse, I gave up fighting through the courts. I still send letters, but effectively I have ‘let them go’. And the heaviness of the heart that you talk about is so so disabilitating. I can understand 100% how you must be feeling. I don’t see any solution. Take care!

    My heart goes out to you for all that you have endured. I am a single mother(not by choice). I wish that my ex would have belived his son was worth half the effort you put forth.
    I recently remairried and am enjoying watching my youngest child share a bond/relationship with his father. Parents who alienate the other parent lose so much because of their bitterness. Years later when the children are older and can think for themselves they resnt what the custodial parent did. My son is 17 now and very angry. He deals with his father in a very negative way. I do not approve of that but I understand why.
    I pray that your daughters gain clarity and that you are open to them when they do.

    I really feel for you.
    I am not divorced, but am seperated from my wife. She moved on with another man, we were together for 11 years and married for 4 we have a 3 and a half year old little girl, I am being held to ransom with regards to seeing my daughter, even to the point of – having to leave the house so as I could still see my daughter! this man didn’t have to go through all the “BABY THINGS” now it seems like I was just there to do all that, including make a home for “THEM”. I was the househusband, I gaveup my life to look after my daughter (not that I regret it) with this other man on the scene it is doubly hard, I know my wife is only doing the best for herself. I after all this am “nothing”. All that I want is to be with my daughter and be happy! But, I don’t think she will let that happen? 11 years and you really do know someone. I hope “WE” get things worked out for the best and in fairness too…..

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