The biggest loss for Steve after separation two years ago is not the relationship but being unable to be around his children all the time. “The reality is I am a weekend father and I have to come to accept that; it’s a hard pill to swallow. I feel I am missing out on a lot of my kids’ lives.”
Yet, he describes himself as “lucky” that he has his two children every weekend, after his marriage broke up. He had to go to court to fight for that access, having initially been given only every second weekend. It was a “financially draining” process that took over a year.
“Men can be really brutalised by the court system,” he says. “You are going into court and trying to prove to a judge that you are a hands-on father. The reality is, you are discriminated from the moment you walk in. I don’t mean to say that in a sexist or bitter way – that is just the reality of the court system. If you’re a woman you will get more access to the kids.”
It's like working with somebody you don't get on well with
Although Steve feels he had no choice but to go to court, he doesn’t recommend it. He advises friends going through separation not to fight over the kids.
For one thing, he believes going to court “destroys any chance of you and your ex having any relationship in the future”. He likens their co-parenting to a “business relationship”; they communicate through emails and rarely talk.
“It’s like working with somebody you don’t get on well with. You both have a common goal – to make sure the kids are okay – and there are never any arguments. It’s all about the kids and shielding them from whatever else is happening around them.”
The one regret he has is that they didn’t both do “parenting when separated” courses earlier as he found once they did, “everything calmed down”.
He did his with One Family and found it “really effective”. Not only does it give you strategies but it takes you out of the conflict “bubble”, he adds.
Another father of two, Fintan, had an overwhelming sense of failure when his marriage of 20 years ended extremely acrimoniously. He still gets upset talking about what he went through. They had grown apart as his wife was very social, enjoying nights out, while he preferred to spend time at home after long days at work.
For 18 months after the breakdown of their relationship, he and his wife remained in the same house, Fintan in one bedroom and her with their sons in the rest of the house. Always a bit of a workaholic, he threw himself even more into work, leaving home at 7am and returning 12 hours later, when she would go out immediately.
Informing your employer about the difficulties you’re going through is a “no-brainer”, he suggests and his was extremely supportive in giving him time off and allowing flexibility around counselling appointments.
The stand-off in the house ended when he got a text at work to say she was moving out and taking the children with her. While they agreed access arrangements fairly early on, the financial aspects took a lot longer to thrash out between solicitors.
Meanwhile, the older boy took his mother’s side and the younger boy was acting out whenever he was with his father. Fintan sought help with his parenting at One Family and, more than five years later, still attends regularly, finding it a huge support both as a father and personally. “You can’t do the best for your children unless you’re right,” he points out.
Like most people in a crisis, he found out who his friends were and one has been his constant “go to” throughout. Fintan also recommends finding hobbies to occupy your mind and to get you out of the house.
I never want to get married again
The couple reached a divorce agreement four years ago that cost them €20,000 each in legal fees but both of them, he says, were satisfied with the outcome.
It was two years before he started dating again but he believes another long-term relationship is unlikely. “I never want to get married again because I never want to go through that pain again and I don’t want any more children.”
However, four years after their divorce, he and his former wife have gone a full circle and become friends again, enjoying a supportive, co-parenting relationship. “I still love her, she is the mother of my children.
“The marriage was great,” he adds, “it just didn’t work out”.