DadsStory: How the Legal System Failed a Father

Submitted by reader Tim from Chicago

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Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the real-life experience of a divorced dad’s struggles to be with his children. Part 2 details that first meeting with his children and the ultimate decision of whether to continue fighting or let them go and hope that one day they return on their own. Click here to read Part 2.

It’s been six years since I’ve been with my daughters, really with them.  I’ve seen them at their high school graduations and school performances, but there’s been no contact in six long years.

I send a couple e-mails every week, leave phone messages, drop off gifts for important occasions – all to let them know I love them and am here whenever and if ever they want contact. Hopefully one day they’ll see I’ve always been here, loving them, and that everything I did was out of love, including my decision to stop the legal fighting and let them go.

Let me start at the beginning. When my ex found out that my girlfriend I went on a cruise while the girls were at camp six years ago, she wrongly assumed we got married aboard the cruise.  We did not, but when we returned and picked the girls up for regular visitation, my ex commented, “If you were going to get married, wouldn’t you let the girls know first?”  I replied, “Absolutely I would.” By the tone of her voice, I knew there was tremendous jealousy that we had even gone on a cruise.

Earlier in the year my ex-wife said she needed $10,000 to cover half of my eldest daughter’s bat mitzvah. We’d been divorced for five years and I always did my share to cover the costs for everything the girls needed. However, as a high school athletic trainer this kind of money isn’t easy to access.

As an attorney, my ex-wife makes a bit more and wants a life that often exceeds my financial means.  On top of that, tens of thousands in legal fees, previous and to come, were incurred by me while she represented herself, thus saving thousands. Needless to say, I could not come up with $10,000. I offered $6,000 and a friend who could do the photography, saving that cost. That wasn’t good enough.

Arriving at the bat mitzvah a few months later, I was shocked to see that my name had not been added to the dedication page.  My inability to pay $10,000 began a spiral of legal events and the loss of my children.

Before the bat mitzvah, my second wife and I took the girls and her nieces out of state for a weekend. All of this had not only fallen on one of my visitation weekends, but had been discussed and cleared with their mother ahead of time. My ex began calling immediately, wanting to speak with the girls who were at the pool and playing games with my wife’s nieces. They went to bed happily and exhausted that night and without a return phone call.

By the next morning not only was my ex calling, but my uncle called to let me know that if the girls didn’t speak to their mother soon she was going to report them as kidnapped. This was beyond ridiculous, but I made sure they contacted her – a call that ended in tears for the youngest and to which the eldest refused to get on the phone.

A couple weeks after that I picked them up from their mother’s to drop them off at the bus they would take to camp for a month, something they were always excited about. At the end of camp, my wife and I picked them up and watched their beaming faces say all that needed to be said. I took them home and ate dinner with them and their mother. Before leaving I was told they would not be able to make it to my home for their upcoming visitation weekend.

Of course I was disappointed, but I understand that changes need to be made at times. Little did I know this would be the last day I would see them for over a year.

When I called to make arrangements for their next weekend, I was told they didn’t want to see me. My ex refused to tell me why, insisting that was up to the girls, and yet I couldn’t make contact with them since e-mails and phone calls were not returned. When the holidays arrived, this was my year to have them for Rosh Hashanah. I tried again, but to no avail.  It was then I realized legal action was necessary.

So I contacted an attorney and papers were drawn up. The court proceedings began that a month later. A guardian ad litem was assigned to the girls, psychological counseling was recommended, which I immediately arranged for them, and so began the nightmare. Over the course of therapy the girls ended up seeing four different ones, creating quite a bad impression on them.  Therapists were changed by my ex every time they got close to reuniting my daughters and me.

This dragged on and by Spring I still hadn’t seen my daughters. The psychologist on the case finally recommended a meeting between me and the girls in her office.  I started to get excited, even if it was in a psychologist’s office, when I got an e-mail from the doctor saying that allegations had suddenly been made which she needed to research.

The youngest claimed that when she spent the night I would bring her into my bed, which I did not, and that I had used Vagisil on her private parts, a product I’d never even owned. My ex also claimed that sending the girls to camp in the summer was my way of punishing them and something they detested. These allegations were so outrageous and untrue I could only shake my head in amazement. All allegations were investigated, and I was a willing participant, having nothing to hide.  However the damage was done.

The meeting with my daughters was postponed indefinitely and the poison which they were being fed at home had begun. This was also the first of a long list of avoidance tactics my ex used to stall court processes and keep the girls from reuniting with me. As an attorney she knew the ins and outs of the system and did everything from turning in forms late to having several instances of illness occur the day before or the day of scheduled court proceedings.

As upsetting as it all was, I wasn’t about to give up.  I continued to send e-mails, which I always copied to the lawyer and doctor, and gifts, which always required a signature for delivery. Only once did my e-mails receive a response, one so uncharacteristic of children their age that even my lawyer, whom I immediately forwarded it to, was in disbelief that a child could have written it.

After the allegations of abuse were cleared, other issues arose such as my inability to pay my half of their private school tuition because between child support and my increasing court costs I didn’t have the money. It also became apparent that my aunt and uncle, who were close to my ex and acted like parents to her, were very involved in the case on her side and were using intimidation – such as calling my mother, my uncle’s sister, and threatening that she would never see the girls again if she testified on my side.

Much time was wasted in having them removed from the proceedings. Time after time, I left court asking myself what had been accomplished.  It was hard to put into words what came out of each session, if anything at all, except another date for court.

Finally, a full year after court began, I was able to get some feedback from the girls’ psychologist. I learned they were upset about fights their mother and I had, that they felt unimportant because my wife had picked them up from school once for me or I’d been late getting them, and that one time I had evidently stood up for my nephew during a dispute between the kids.

Communication continued to be one-sided, with the girls as silent as ever. To realize how influenced they were by my ex was really frightening.  At this point reuniting with them would mean starting anew since their opinion of me had changed so much in the past year.

By then it had been over a year since I’d seen my daughters.  At this point my attorney was considering filing a motion for an EMERGENCY to ENFORCE VISITATION.  The longer I went without seeing them, the harder any reunification process would be.  However, it was decided by the girls’ psychologist that forcing them into a meeting could make the situation worse and that we should work at the pace the doctor recommended. I reluctantly agreed.

During the next few months I sporadically learned, usually in court, of illnesses and medical situations my daughters were facing some very serious.  Their mother consistently claimed to have called and left messages.  Though my cell is always on and with me, I never received any messages.

A few months later my ex said she wanted the girls out of the legal system – something I hoped was movement in the right direction. However, her “desire” never led to any compliance for visitations. Finally, another couple months later, the court decided I should meet with the girls in the psychologist’s office.

I was extremely encouraged that a meeting would FINALLY take place, yet I remained cautious until I could learn what stall tactics my ex may have planned.  Sure enough, the meeting was dragged out as my ex filed new legal claims asking for medical reimbursements on claims she had never shared with me.

It was becoming quite clear to everyone involved, and was communicated in a letter from my attorney to the girls’ psychologist, that I was being painted in a very negative light in the girls’ home and the longer the separation continued the worse the situation got. Weeks went by, and I continued working with my own psychologist on how to handle meeting with the girls and what to say in my letters to them.

During this time my ex filed claims asking for payment on private school tuition. My lawyer and I countered this as I was out of money due to legal fees, medical fees and child support.  When it was presented before the judge, the ruling was that I needed to pay, even though my monthly balance was already negative $700 without those costs.

It wasn’t until a good year and a half after last seeing my children, that I got the news I’d been waiting for – an e-mail indicating I would finally see them on a Sunday morning in their doctor’s office.


Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the real-life experience of a divorced dad’s struggles to be with his children. Part 2 details that first meeting with his children and the ultimate decision of whether to continue fighting or let them go and hope that one day they return on their own. Click here to read Part 2.

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4 comments on “DadsStory: How the Legal System Failed a Father

    I’m so disgusted just reading the first part I have no desire to finish it. I to have experienced the imbalance the legal system has to protect dirt-bags like your X and mine. I feel your pain brother and there is nothing anyone or I could say to make this any better. Respect for your diligence and I wish you the best

    That’s a very good question nighthawk4u! If anyone has been in a similar situation, who have you turned to for help?

    I know how you feel!!
    I really know how you feel. My ex was not an attorney but I guess her attorney told her how to do it. Anyway the question is how do we combat someone like this. If they are willing to lie cheat and even brainwash their own kids in order to make sure the kids grow up without their Dads, how can we protect ourselves from it. How can we protect our children from this happening to them. My Ex is teaching my little girl right now to keep secrets. Secrets about the ex’s boyfriend and trips they take and places they go. My little girl is not allowed to tell me about school or doctor’s or activities. Asking the ex to take her or to let me take her to a psychologist is out of the question for my Ex. Mean while bit by bit my ex tear’s my little girl away from me. But who do you turn too, what can you do?

    I feel for you!
    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.

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