The only Christmas I’ve ever spent with my little boy was his first Christmas.
My wife and child left with no warning. She rang to say she was leaving and not coming back. All I had of my child, for six months, was his bowl and spoon. That’s all I had of him. I was allowed see him on her terms – in her house first – but not allowed to bring him home.
I organised marriage counselling and, after a few sessions, was advised by the counsellor to get a solicitor. Court was a last resort for me. I had no choice. I was forced to go to court to gain access to my child.
To gain any kind of decent time with my son, I had to come up with an argument of why I should gain access to him that would stand up in court.
As the child’s mother worked full time and he was put in childcare from 8am to 5pm, five days a week, I said, ‘Look I’ll give up my job,’ (I’m part-time farming and holding down a public sector job), ‘to mind him a couple of days a week.’
That way his mother would be able to have him at the weekends and he’d get the best of both worlds. He’d get to spend the maximum amount of time with his mother every weekend when she was off.
It was originally agreed for me to have him for three days a week.
The initial trial period didn’t work and it went back to court again
On the days he was going back, he had to be at his mother’s house at no later than 8am or I would be in breach of the court order. It’s a long journey between both houses so I had to get him out of his cot before half six on those mornings.
The initial trial period didn’t work and it went back to court again, which took several months. As difficult as the routine was, I kept it up for the entire time as I wanted to be part of my son’s life.
Because it was a temporary arrangement, there were no arrangements put in place for Christmas. According to the schedule of when I was to have him, my days were falling on Christmas.
However, a couple of days before Christmas and before the next court hearing, his mother said: “This is the schedule for Christmas and you’re not going to have him for Christmas day or over the Christmas period.” I contacted my solicitor but they could do nothing about it.
After the appeal was heard, more defined blocks of access were set. I have him for a block of three days and she has him for the other set block, which is better for him.
The next year, again there wasn’t an arrangement put in place for Christmas, but my designated days were falling at Christmas
In that court case, the judge also set it in stone then that the child would be going to the school of his mother’s choice, and not mine, even though for most of the school days he was meant to be with me. It was assumed by the judge that the mother was the best person to have our son. I was lucky the first judge even allowed me access.
The next year, again there wasn’t an arrangement put in place for Christmas, but my designated days were falling at Christmas. I assumed that the second year, I would get to have him in my house for Christmas – but the same thing happened as the year previous.
I spent the 23 December in my car outside of work, frantically back and forth to my solicitor with emails. This continued up until Christmas Eve. My solicitor said I could try to collect him if I wanted, to but they may not be there. They suggested I call the gardaí, but also asked me: are they going to support you in that? Is that really what you want?
I’d love to be there for when Christmas is truly magical for him but I know it can’t happen now. In our divorce, I set up the arrangements for access going forward so I wouldn’t have to be going back to court continually in future. I had to be level-headed and unemotional in those proceedings. I knew Christmas would be a sticking point in the negotiations, so to gain access at other times I sacrificed time at Christmas. I had to look at trying to get the most amount of time with him rather than when that time would be.
I’ve explained that Santa can visit him in two houses, so he’ll get presents under a tree here before Santa visits again on Christmas morning.
The experience has hardened me
There’s no one and nowhere for fathers to turn to for support if they can’t get access to their children. I found a Facebook page for men in similar situations in America but that was it. The way fathers are treated in this country is quite unfair. It’s assumed by the courts that mothers should be the main caregiver.
The experience has hardened me. If I imagined my worst-case life scenario, my wife walking out on me, taking my child and having to fight through the courts to get him back (or just have access to him) was it and, well, that happened to me. You know how they say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger? It’s been like that, I suppose.
To all other dads out there going through something similar, stay strong, think hard and plan before you go into court. You will survive this
Now, as I see it, nothing can be as bad again. So if I see other members of my family getting emotional about someone’s illness or something upsetting me, that sort of stuff doesn’t get to me anymore – if that makes sense. To all other dads out there going through something similar, stay strong, think hard and plan before you go into court. You will survive this.
Things may not turn out exactly like you might want, but you can adapt and make the best of the situation and play a part in your child’s life.
I hope sharing my experience will help those who have been in similar circumstances.