While I can honestly and confidently say that my separation from my ex-partner eventually turned out to be a positive thing, I would never deny that at the time it felt like the end of the world. I felt like I’d failed, regardless of how much or how little I was to blame. I’d played a part in my child losing a parent, and what bigger loss could any child face?
The build up to the breakdown, the realisation, the denial and – most grievously of all – the custody case that followed, was the darkest and most difficult period of my life. There is no escaping from the truth that a custody battle is among the most terrible of experiences, even when it’s done for the right reasons. So if that’s where you are now, that’s where you’re heading to or that’s where you’re emerging from, I sympathise and I understand. Lots of people do.
I’m going to be writing regular pieces for BLB about family law and parenthood. Together we’re going to look at what it all entails; how you cope, how you protect your children and all the issues that are involved. If you recognise my name that’s probably because my wife writes for BLB’s chronic pain blog. We were both represented by BLB (personal injury, in her case), and in the interest of transparency I shall state from the off that I think BLB were terrific and I would not hesitate to recommend them. In fact, evidently our relationship is ongoing. They’re good eggs! And it’s great to be working for them in the way that they once worked for me… albeit for far less per hour!
In this piece I’m going to give you a bit of background about how I ended up here. The caveat of course is that away from these words my life continues, as does my contact with my ex-partner. She’s the mother of my daughter, after all. And in truth despite how horrific the experience of the custody battle proved, we’ve actually managed to get to the point where relations are now pretty good, which is a credit to us both, I think. It would be unfair of me to go into too much of the nitty gritty, but I’ll talk about the experience in broad strokes. Perhaps you’ll relate to some of it.
My ex and I initially split for a period when my daughter, who was born in 2006, was one year old. Back then we shared custody 50/50, and we both recognised that the situation was doing our daughter no good, especially as we were living some distance apart. We got back together and the relationship continued until 2013, albeit while undergoing some very prolonged and difficult periods for us both.
The issues that plagued us eventually came to a head and my ex chose to leave the family home, leaving me with custody of my daughter. After a period of emotional upheaval and adjustment, an informal contact schedule was agreed. However, the goodwill that existed was not sufficient to hold things together when opinions and standards on both sides varied so greatly. Clashes on the nature and frequency of contact led to a point where I took exception to circumstances I believed to be unacceptable and reluctantly, I felt I had no choice but to block unsupervised contact altogether.
A very difficult time followed that culminated in a custody case. The case itself and everything it entailed – the uncertainty, the venom, the delays, the resentment, the doubt, the impact on the wider family, the cost – was undoubtedly the worst period of my life. Coping with it all while trying to still be a good dad is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced and one that, if I’m being honest, has probably left me a little damaged. There is no comfort to be found when you fear your child is being impacted by family turmoil, or that circumstances beyond your control could bring her to harm. In almost all such situations, too, one parent is also coming to terms with the fact that they will see less of the child they have raised and have lived with ñ that’s a pain I can scarcely imagine. Yet despite all this, a child living in a troubled home is not ideal either. The pain and disruption of a split can be worrying, but the impact of permanent problems at home can be far worse.
In my case, the first court hearing ended in disaster, with a decision that bore little resemblance to what I had sought (or indeed the recommendations of the Cafcass report) and what I felt offered a safe and reasonable outcome for my daughter. My disappointment compared not to my barrister’s rage, however, as she was convinced of the illegality of parts of the ruling. It soon transpired that a judge agreed, and an appeal was quickly approved (honestly, there really is no substitute for sound legal advice – without it I would not be where I am today). Fortunately, in a moment of calm my ex and I were finally able to start properly communicating, and an out of court agreement was struck that gave her the access she wanted and me the safeguards I required.
It should be noted that my daughter coped astonishingly well throughout it all – far better than me and the lady I am now married to did, certainly! Why that has been is a subject we’ll cover in the the following weeks.
Now, some year and a bit down the line, things are remarkably good. My daughter sees her mother (and her half siblings) for two nights every other weekend, and one evening every other week, and also spends time with her in the school holidays. My daughter and I live with my wife (her stepmother) in a beautiful home in the Hertfordshire countryside. The two ladies of my life have an incredible relationship that brings me a huge amount of joy and comfort. And while what happened is always looming somewhere in the background and can never be forgotten, relations are good. Most importantly, it feels as if everyone is genuinely pulling in the right direction in the interest of my daughter. And what I’ve learned is that ultimately that is all it is ever about.
This article is by Ben Parfitt, a former client of BLB Solicitors. He writes from personal experience. For legal advice on all issues to do with divorce or separation, please contact the family team at BLB Solicitors.