Ask the expert: My ex-wife is aggressive and I’m worried about my daughter
After all that has happened, it would be understandable if you were extremely angry with your ex-wife. Do not let this affect your judgment or willingness to collaborate with her. Photograph: Thinkstock
Q) I split up with my wife just over a year ago. Despite having lasted 10 years, it had been a very unhappy marriage. My wife constantly belittled me, and could be very aggressive and volatile towards me. Things went badly wrong after my daughter, who is now six, was born.
My wife found parenting hard, and was depressed and unhappy. She took things out on me and insisted I leave the bedroom (I have learned subsequently that she was unfaithful to me on a number of occasions).
I finally left 18 months ago when I met someone through work who has shown me what a real, loving relationship is like. Although she had no interest in me, my wife did not take the break-up well, and became really aggressive. When I tried to talk to her, she hit me and destroyed some of my possessions. On one occasion in a rage she took a knife and threatened to kill me.
When I moved out, I continued to be involved as a father, and my daughter stayed over with me several nights a week. However, my wife has done everything she can to disrupt this. Last year she made an accusation to child protection services that I had harmed my daughter. This devastated me and it meant that I did not see my daughter for six weeks while this was being investigated. Of course there was no substance to the allegation and the social workers shared with me privately their worries about my wife’s mental health.
Since that time, contact with my daughter has been difficult and my wife can be volatile. I am increasingly worried about her mental health – she is drinking heavily – and her ability to care for my daughter, though she refuses any increased contact or involvement from me. I would be happy for my daughter to come and live with me full-time.
It seems very difficult to get legal support to change things and I know that if I take a court case, my wife will be livid. She could take it out on me and stop contact altogether.
A) Sadly, it is not uncommon for parents to make unfounded accusations of child abuse within the context of serious acrimony. Unfortunately, in my work as a social worker I receive very many of these referrals. Sometimes the parent making the accusation uses this deliberately as a means to attack the other parent or to stop them having contact with their child. More frequently, they are so upset, angry and mistrustful of the other parent that they strongly believe the child should live only with them, and actually believe the child is at risk of harm from the other parent.
Whatever the reasons, such allegations represent deep acrimony, and result in a breakdown of communication between two parents.
Seek specialist support and advice
In the situation you are dealing with, it is important that you seek specialist support and advice. As a first port of call, you may wish to recontact the social workers who were involved in the investigation. Explain your concerns for your daughter, and ask for their assistance in moving forward. They could reassess the situation and refer you and your ex-wife to specialist therapeutic services.
For example, it may be helpful to seek the support of a skilled family therapist or mediator who could work with you and your wife to reach agreement focused on your daughter’s needs. They have also recourse to legal options as necessary to protect your daughter.