Divorcing very difficult ex with poss MH issues, please help me navigate regarding contact with children(90 Posts)
Hello oh wise people
I've been separated for about 2 years from DCs dad. He has a history of mental instability and is very very controlling. The entire divorce process has been diabolical - despite the separation/divorce being instigated by him, he has wasted thousands upon thousands in legal fees through total and utter non-cooperation. He has tried to get me arrested, kicked out of the house, made groundless allegations to social services - all was finalised in the family courts last autumn and we came out, unsurprisingly, with a court order which reflected what I'd suggested was appropriate all along - the bog standard half the holidays and 3 nights EOW with midweek tea (to progress to midweek overnight when the children get a bit older).
I've never tried to keep him from the children, but was always the primary carer. He is in many ways a very good dad - in the sense that he is very loving. But he's not very well mentally, and can't cope with much. At the slightest provocation from me he stops seeing the children because he is too angry with me. Once I texted him asking why he was late, and apparently he was so stressed out by that he had to pull over in the car en route and sit there "waiting to calm down" for three hours with his phone switched off, before finally arriving. We are meant to sit and wait patiently (my two very young and excitable DC with their coats on) during all of this.
We've had two periods so far where he has been so stressed he stopped seeing them completely. This was pre-court order, and was because I refused to let him institute his own idea of contact. It was a totally untenable suggestion, but because I wouldn't do exactly what he wanted, he stopped seeing them. He told me afterwards he believed he was acting in the children's best interests because he believed that by agreeing to my EOW suggestion, he was setting the 'status quo' which would be held against him in court, so he believed not seeing them at all was better.
Sorry for the length of this post. Basically, the divorce finances are hotting up at the moment, which means there are going to be lots of things happening which upset/stress him out. Last weekend (ie. a week ago) was meant to be his weekend. We'd had a few cross words by email during the day on Friday, but nothing major. He didn't turn up. He then didn't communicate at all for 5 days, blocked me from calling him. I noticed activity on his FB account over the weekend and only due to that did I not feel the need to worry that something had happened. The next contact he made was on the Wednesday when he was meant to take the children for tea. He made no mention of the missing weekend (which was horrendous for the children and they are really distressed and confused) but simply said he was prepared to see them for his 1 hour to take them to tea on the condition that I did not discuss contact "past present or future". From past experience this kind of contact actually upsets the children more, particularly if at 'goodbye' time, he does not reassure them as to when they will be seeing him for sleepovers at his house. So I took a deep breath and wrote back saying that unless he could give me reassurance that he will be resuming normal contact as per the court order, I did not think the Weds tea was in their best interests. I need to know what is going on for their sake, and I cannot face more weekends ahead where the DC are just left sitting with their coats on on a Friday night with a no show Dad. I'm devastated for them.
Does anyone have any words of advice? I'd be so grateful. I find standing up to him tortuous - I have never met anybody more infuriating. He is so stubborn that he doesn't respond well at ALL to me putting any boundaries up, and would rather not see his children than "give in" to me. Another issue we have at the moment is half term - he is meant to be having them for the whole week (having let me down for his half of the previous half term - he asked for the whole week) but is refusing to respond to any questions on the subject. A week ago I said if I hadn't heard back in 7 days I'd have to assume he isn't having them and make other plans. I knew full well that if I gave that deadline he would just ignore it.
All help gratefully received! I'm at my wits end.
Sorry this is so difficult for you and for your DC.
I am going to have to be as brief as I can but I would suggest that you withdraw form him as much as possible. Don't engage about contact. he has an order. Presumably it is specific about dates and times. If so I think you assume he will never see his children and be pleasantly surprised if he does. Concentrate on your life and those of your DC. He will continue to use contact to upset and inconvenience you for as long as he feels it is affecting you. Don't tell the DC too much in advance if you can help it. have things ready for a rapid exit subtly if he does turn up. Certainly never give him the impression that he is doing contact for you (eg having a whole week in half term because he missed half of the last one).
The stress is a red herring to make you feel responsible for his inability/unwillingness to comply with his own contact order. Even if he does have stress and anxiety issues he still has to find ways to function in the real world...or to seek help and to withdraw for a while. You don;pt appear to have worries about leaving your children in his care so I assume he is not having distressing panic attacks in front of your children.
His stress is not your problem...he is trying to make it so. He has to find ways to function and to take responsibility for himself. you have to comply with the court order and equip your DC as best you can for life with or without him.
Good luck with the finances. I suggest you keep the contact with him to a minimum and sort through lawyers,it will be the quickest and ckleanest in the end.
PS none of this means you are a mean and horrible person....just that you can't help both him and your DC.
Thank you very much foolonthehill for your reply.
You see, I think this is where I may be going wrong. I have said that because he simply didn't turn up last weekend, I am suspending contact until he can assure me that this will not continue to happen. The children are asking incessantly what is going on and when they will see him and I feel as though they will be even more upset if he cannot assure them regarding these details. In case it's relevant, my lawyer suggested suspending contact as my ex has a long history of this behaviour and says that if he makes an application to court we have absolutely nothing to fear - I have done nothing wrong.
But is the answer instead to let him just turn up when he wants to, and to as you say make sure I have things ready for a quick exit? I totally agree with what you say regarding minimising contact and I thank you again for your kind thoughts!
Sorry, also wanted to add that now I have said this (and have written as much to his lawyer in the vague hope that his lawyer might talk sense into him) I am fearful of backing down and simply making the children available for contact if he wants it, even if he is unreliable in the extreme.
Regarding the half-term, I gave him the deadline and of course - as predicted - he completely ignored it (because that'll learn me! ). So now I feel I should write to him and say that I will be having the children for the whole of the next half term because once again he is refusing to discuss and I need to make plans. Arrggghhh!
No don't do contact as and when he wants it. Allow and prepare for contact only when your order dictates and if your order is too woolly then send a letter from your solicitor to his that fulfils the requirements of the order and fills in the gaps.
eg if the order says every other weekend and tea on one midweek your solicitor writes "every other weekend starting on saturday the 31st jan 2015.Pick up at (venue) at (time) or within 20 minutes drop off at (venue) and (time), tea time wednesdays to start (time) and return children at (time). Holiday contact to be the first half of every holiday as set by county council beginning at (time) and ending at (time). Or whatever variation you decide
You don't need to contact him about half term...even if he is stressed he can still read and you have given him a deadline and consequence. just carry it out.
Yes he will bad mouth you but he is probably going to be doing that anyway.
be straightforward. Don't keep renegotiating details with him.
Tell the DC that there is a piece of paper that tells daddy when they are free to see him but if daddy can't make it then you will always be there for them and you will have a good time together.
Your children need a dad but not as much as they need a dad who is in it for them. he is using them as a weapon to get at you at present.
best case scenario...with him not distracted by his relationship with you he focusses on children and their needs and they gain a dad.
worst case scenario he has a hissy fit and sees them very little or not at all in which case it is HIS FAULT not yours and your children will unfortunately have the relationship that he chooses to give them.
fool so sorry to keep harping on. As things stand I have told him that unless he can assure me that he intends to resume proper contact (by that I mean staying contact) then I do not want him to see the children. I just want to know what is going on! But it means that I have escalated things by asking him to give me something that - for a 'normal' person at least - is completely reasonable. ie. if he doesn't intend to have the children Friday to Sunday (his next allotted staying contact) then I don't think it is in their best interests to see him for 1 hour on Wednesday for tea. I am sure it will just confuse and upset them if at the end of that hour he won't/can't reassure them as to when he will see them next.
It means that we are in a stand-off. I am worried I have done the wrong thing by doing this, but if he doesn't intend to see them this weekend (as per the court order) then I want time to know this in advance and to be able to prepare them. Do you think I should climb down from this position? I don't know how to
I just want them to know in advance whether they are seeing him or not God this is all driving me utterly mad, I feel as though he is torturing me (and them)
I think you need to start helping your children accept, in a nice and age appropriate way, that their father is a total cock and they can expect nothing of him. This is for their benefit, so they are less anxious and disappointed and inclined to blame themselves. Building on PP's advice about there being set times when daddy can see them but you are there if he can't, but also adding that daddy is not very well or very happy which is why he sometimes behaves in a rather silly way, etc. (It's not good to go on about how unkind and fuckwitted their father is, make it a case of 'poor silly daddy can't help it and it is not your fault in any way rather than 'Daddy is a selfish nasty man.')
As to the man, stick to the court maintained schedule, don't communicate with him otherwise (if he starts to pester with texts/phonecalls, turning up unannounced, involve the police when necessary) and if he is more than 10 minutes late, go out with DC.
However, if at any point you suspect that his mental illness (Is it diagnosed, or is it just Abusive Arsehole Excuse Syndrome?) is worsening to the point that he is a danger to the children, stop contact completely and let him take you back to court. Remember he is the least important person in the situation. Good luck.
does he have a MH diagnosis? do you have a letter from a GP or psychiatrist? is he undergoing therapy? is he on medication?
unless you have hard evidence of his MH then you need to be careful in court. tho your records of contact not happening might help.
may be better dc do see him for a brief hour rather than not, to reassure them he around.
fool gave good advice.
I have one of those exes too. (diagnosed MH issues but can also put on a good display for professionals when he wants to...)
remember that your email saying "I am stopping contact" will be taken out of context and will be made to look like you have simply suspended contact for no reason.
rather, an email from you to him saying "the dc are available on Tuesday and Thursday during the half term" will be far better than one from you saying "the dc wont see you during half term".
the first, you look reasonable.
the latter, judge sees it as you withholding contact for no good reason (despite the fact you have good reason - but judges don't always see the full picture, especially if he puts on a good show of saying "she stopped contact for no reason look here is her email..." ) .
dont put their coats on a friday and have them sitting in the hall. wait til he is actually outside the door.
it is annoying to say that on Wednesdays they might be going with dad but if not they will be with you, but so long as it's only on set days then its manageable.
your dc need to accept he is unreliable and you need to support them to understand that.
it is far better you say sure see them Wednesday for tea;
than you saying "if you don't promise the weekend you cant see them Wednesday" which makes you look bad. make it all about his choice not to see them and record that -dont be the one saying: no you cant see them. let them go with him Wednesday for tea for an hour. be relaxed and calm about it.
also if dc seen him wednesday then you can tell teem on weekend well yo saw dad wednesday so dont worry this weekend we will do something else ...
yes it is highly annoying but will get easier as kids get older...now dd 12 organizes directly with ex it's a lot easier. she still gets let down and chopped and changed but it is not the big deal for me it used to be. (is still a massive problem for older DS who is disabled/ASD and will get let down, so eg last monday it was a case of being ready as ex said he would take him for dinner but also being ready for it to be cancelled - which it was a at last minute.
Thanks both. I am crying reading your posts. I think this is affecting me more than it should.
SGB - yes, I have used that kind of language "daddy sometimes makes silly decisions" and definitely do not use inappropriate bad terms to describe him. This morning they wanted to make him cards and they want me to post them to him, but we did that once before and he went berserk, accusing me of manipulating them 'for my own gain'.
Regarding a diagnosis. He has had two episodes of acute schizophrenia in the past, but is very clever and deliberately sought psychiatric help privately so that it wouldn't be registered on his medical notes. Since separation, he has vehemently denied that this ever happened - as I say, he's not stupid. It wasn't my aim in court to deny contact; all I ever wanted was a regular reliable contact routine and I stupidly hoped that he would stick to it if we had a court order. In fact if anything he's been worse since. It is always dependent on our relationship and if he's not happy with me, he becomes belligerent about the terms of contact.
For example, the judge ordered that he was to collect from me on a Friday and deliver them to school on a Monday morning. For two months after the final hearing he refused to do this, stating that the judge had misheard his evidence (the evidence he gave whilst campaigning for 50:50 shared care during which he said he was able to do transport very easily and had negotiated with his new job that he wanted to be an involved father and needed flexibility). For a few weeks we started getting on better and he started to cooperate more, but then things deteriorated a couple of weeks ago and he is once again stating that it's impossible for him.
It's really helping to talk it out here, thank you.
cestlavie - the trouble is I have already said this to him, and my lawyer has advised me that I do not look unreasonable at all. I tend to agree with you though and really, truly, honestly, I do NOT want to stop contact. I just want him to be reasonable.
well your lawyer might agree with you but reality is that these people manipulate others like judges, professionals etc.
fact: you say to him "you cant see the kids on wednesday"
judge sees that you prevented him from court ordered wednesday contact.
however reasonable the whole context looks, he can literally jsut prsent the one fact of you stopping wednesday contact and it looks bad on you.
he wont be reasonable. ever.
so how do you deal with that?
start form the point he wont play fair.
but you have no mh diagnosis on record.
so you have to play the game of always making the dc available.
dont of course have them sitting in coats, wait til he at the door.
if you have to arrange childcare in half term it s a pain, been there done that.
last half term i paid out literally hundreds of pounds for my son's carers to not care for son because ex decided last minute to keep ds the whole day instead of handing him over at 2 pm - which is what he had said he would do as he "needed to work".
since then he's barely seen him at all again because he is pissed at me.
we now have a family group conf being set up with regard to ds... will be interesting to see and hear ex's version....
OP I've just had to take a deep breath after reading your posts. That sounds incredibly difficult.
The court order has been made in respect of what is in the best interests of the children. If contact does not happen in the way ordered then that becomes not in their best intersts. Being defined as the stress and energy it is taking ouf of you and thus your whole well being, which you need preserved to be a parent your children. But mostly their anxiety, disappointment, confusion, rejection even? by their 'silly daddy'.
I consider myself and advocate for MH issues. But I think whether it is a MH issue or him just being a twat that is the cause behind it all, does not change how this affects the children.
I wonder what your solcitor advises re MH issues advises, if he is using this against you to suit him then is the onus not on him to prove to be in a fit state to care for his children. I understand that many parents are ill with MH issues but they are not using it as an excuse for not turning up or for needing three hours to calm down this is either excuse making or serious enough to be exercising caution about him careing for the children Does he take them to relatives homes or have a new partner?
A friend of m ine had a private MH assessment used against he in court. She had to get her own GP to put forward evidence to say otherwise.
I would simply restate the details of the court order and say this is what we are sticking to. Sit back and wait. If he does not turn up, record, wait and record it all. Then when you do refuse any further contact, if you feel the children need protecting from the eratic behaviour then lethim take you back to court. I'm not even sure if you would need to take him to court and say he hasn't turned up and that you are concered for his behaviours.
Maybe he needs time to get well before contact can procede properaly. I really feel for your DC's.
Sympathies - an ex like this is really hard to deal with. Mine is just awkward rather than someone with, so my advice comes from this place. Feel free to ignore if you think it will make things worse.
He's not going to stop being erratic, so all you can do is manage your
own expectations and your dc's expectations about it. I find the thing that takes the wind of out of my ex's sails is to be act very cheerful and amused by whatever he does. It also helps with the dc if eg. he doesn't turn up - they do look to you for their cue. There always needs to be a Plan B that you can implement in a light-hearted way. "Daddy not turning up? Never mind, I've got a great idea about what we can do..."
He tells you he sat in a car calming down for three hours? You chuckle out loud. Hope he didn't get cold! What a pity, as in the meantime, you and the dcs were having fun doing x.
Hasn't contacted you about half-term. I'd tell him that I'd set up x arrangements - I'd tell him that before I actually did, as with my ex, that would make him email back and demand to have them. Like cest, I've sometimes had to pay for childcare that I ended up not using because of x, but never ever show that it's a pain.
Every time you show annoyance with him, he'll count it as a score. Doesn't matter what you feel like inside, never show he's landed a blow. Fake it till you make it. Over time, it does matter less and less, and you get to the stage where you roll your eyes rather than agonise over it.
I think I may write another letter to his lawyer this week (copying him in) and saying that the children will be available for staying contact from Friday 5.30pm with him returning them Sunday afternoon - totally as per the court order. I will then follow advice on here and not say much to them, and if he doesn't turn up then that will be that.
What I object to the most is him seeing them for midweek tea if he's not going to see them at the weekend, or refuses to let them know at the end of that midweek visit that that's going to happen. cestlavie they're 5 btw... We have been down this route before. They are anxious and insecure at the moment. If he was to eg. see them for tea this Wednesday, but refuse to reassure them at the end of that visit that he will soon be seeing them for the weekend (they are obsessed with their sleepovers at Daddy's house - when, how many, etc etc) then it is my firm belief that it is MORE detrimental for them to see him on Wednesday than it is beneficial. I have on several occasions had to witness the torture of them hanging off him in the hallway, hysterically crying, and telling him they don't want him to go because they miss him. Instead of doing the ONE thing they desperately need him to do, which is to reassure them as to when they will see him next, he quite literally stands there mooning over them saying things like "I know, it's really sad isn't it? Daddy misses you too. Daddy misses you SO much darling." He talks to them as though they are star-crossed lovers rather than parent and child. It makes me feel sick to the stomach, and want to tear them away. But in the past he has accused me of 'child abuse' when on one occasion I said through tears, please just tell them when you will see them again.
It's hideous and I want it to stop. I want him to see them, and I want him to stick to the court order.
My ex does the star-crossed lover thing as well. He loves the drama of it all. Honestly, you'll only feed the drama if you're begging him to to things through your tears.
My dd(7) will obligingly cry for her dad while he's doing his little performance of "alas, alas we are being torn apart", but once he's out of sight, she'll switch off the tears quite quickly and is rather cynical about the fact that she has to be behave that way to please him. (And yes, it's very sad that a 7-year-old has to be cynical, but it's a survival mechanism).
Please note - I totally understand that you and your dcs are experiencing very genuine distress. But it sounds like your ex is entirely gratified by it - that's why he keeps doing it. Your distress is his reward, so you just have to do your utmost to stop rewarding his behaviour.
where is the midweek tea happening?
is he coming to your house?
it should be drop off at the door quickly...
if midweek tea is the court order you cannot wihold that jsut because of what he might or might not say to them - it just looks like you being obstructive.
you need to find a way to do quick drops offs/pick ups and not allow time for the tears and drama on your door step. if they can do that when with him fine - he will then have to deal .
he brings them to the door, you encourage a quick good bye they start saying daddy when are we coming for sleepover, you whisk them in saying "mummy will speak to daddy about that later, come inside we need to get ready for bath and bed... " close the door and leave him standing there on the other side. .
anticipate and take charge and dont allow time for drama in the hallway. quick good bye whisk them in and shut the door. .
oh and yes my ex did the dramatic thing too.
It's not what he might or might not say to them, it's that if he is withholding weekend contact then I don't think he has the right to agitate them by seeing them for an hour instead, when he sees fit. Or at least, I would like to know what he intends to do in the future, having completely disappeared without explanation for a weekend.
The court order stipulates that he is to collect them from home at 5.30pm and return them back at 6.45pm. Because to start with he repeatedly turned up late and returned them late, and also to allow him the maximum amount of 'quality time', I offered to drop them to him at the station at 5.15pm so that he could take them somewhere straight away. He would then return them at about 6.45pm-7pm.
I'm still mulling all of this over. Another option is to write saying that I will stick to the exact wording of the court order, so we would return to him collecting them from me at 5.30pm on a Wednesday. But I am absolutely loathe to put them through the misery of having to say goodbye to him with no clear idea of when they will see him again. It feels like repeatedly picking a scab.
seeing him every week on weds is regular and has to be positive.
have a you a big calendar for the wall? mark weds tea every week they can see that it's very frequent...if that is what he manages to keep up.
but don't have tea at your house. needs to be at his.
you can then show them they have seen him last week, will see him this week.
make it clear the sleepovers are dad's decision - they need to understand it isn't you stopping them.
Also, cestlavie - my lawyer DOES think I can withhold contact, having been privy to the exchanges and contact history that has preceded now. I am terrified of withholding contact and for me, it is not a path I've ever wanted to go down, because I know how stubborn my ex is. But I've been advised that if my ex were to try to take this back to court, we should welcome it.
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