My partner separated from his wife three years ago. It was an acrimonious split and he was very much held accountable for the demise of the marriage. He has two teenage daughters who live with their mother. He is a loving father and would really like to spend more time with his children. However, there is no arrangement in place for regular contact, his wife does little to facilitate access and he is left hoping they will respond to his texts, which they often don’t.
Inevitably, I’m left feeling partly responsible for this situation, which I find heartbreaking and frustrating. I don’t live with my partner. I had hoped this would enable him to maintain relationships with his daughters more easily, but it simply isn’t happening. He had started divorce proceedings, but his wife refused to sign anything or attend mediation.
She has recently got a very high-paying job, but my partner still gives her well over the recommended Child Support Agency guidelines in financial support for the two daughters, one of whom is about to leave for university. He could go through the courts, but that is expensive and may damage relationships even further. I don’t know how to help him and sometimes I don’t know how to help myself. I just wish some of these issues could be resolved.
T, via email
Things can be resolved, but it’s going to take some work on the part of your partner and his wife.
I spoke to Katherine Rayden, a partner at Rayden, solicitors and family law specialists, not because I think legal intervention is necessary yet – although it may be helpful later – but because sometimes in the murky waters of a post-separation relationship, it can help to know where the parameters lie.
“When a [married] couple split up,” explains Rayden, “they will often consider that one person was to blame. In this country, we have a fault-based divorce system which encourages this perception but this view should not have any weight in relation to the financial matters or the children. The last resort would be for your partner to make an application to the court. This is rightly considered to be the last resort but is nevertheless an option that should be used if necessary. A formal solicitor’s letter should encourage a dialogue between the parents, and the mother can explain why the children are having so little contact with their father.”
You see, it has not been officially decided that the children should live with their mother, either solely or for what length of time. Only a court can decide that and make it legally binding (and even then it can be reassessed after a period of time, or when it’s no longer in a child’s best interest). What usually happens, as Rayden explained to me, is that a couple will decide between them what works best.
At some point, your partner and his ex-wife must have a conversation about it. If he wants things to change then he needs to either talk to her or, if that’s not possible, send a solicitor’s letter so that there’s a record of what’s been asked for/said.
If she doesn’t agree, then she has to respond and explain why he can’t see his children X times a week. If they can’t sort it out between themselves or via solicitors, then court is the only other option.
It’s great that your partner is paying towards their upkeep. But I think he needs to do more if he wants to spend time with them rather than just send them texts (important though that direct communication also is). It’s really important for your partner to be seen to “fight” to see his children, even if he doesn’t get as much access to them as he’d like, and even if they appear not to be bothered just now. It may matter to them later.
I think it’s also great that you are so concerned about his relationship with his children, but don’t put your life on hold too much in case his children might come and stay with him or not. All adult relationships come with some baggage but how heavy that baggage becomes depends on how much you want to be in the partnership.
If you want to live with this man, discuss this. I would be wary if at any point he cites the loose ends of his past relationship as the reason he can’t commit to you.
First published in The Guardian Family section on 15 November 2013.