Divorce and separation: Readers’ stories

A recent Irish Times series on marriage break-up in Ireland invited readers to share their experiences. Here, wives, husbands, and children tell their stories

 

It’s 20 years since Ireland voted for divorce. An Irish Times series, Divorced Ireland, explores the effects of that vote on Irish life, then and since. To read the full series click here

Heartbreaking is the only way we can describe the personal accounts that came in to us in response to the recent Irish Times series, Divorced Ireland. Every story is unique, and each writer courageous in their own way. Kate Holmquist

CHILDREN

Michael: ‘I told my father to divorce my mother’ I was a straight-A student at 15. My mother’s drinking and related behaviour was getting worse. On the morning of my Junior Cert, she had been drinking through the night and could hardly string a sentence together. We had to take a kitchen knife from her.

My father was a businessman and was rarely home. He knew how bad she was getting, but he travelled a lot and didn’t have to deal with what we did on a daily basis: fearing for our lives as she forced us to get into the car and drove under the influence to and from sports practice; my brother walking from pub to pub to see if she was there when we could not find her.

Utter hell.

But one Saturday morning in autumn 2006, I couldn’t contain my anger towards him. I told my father to divorce my mother and demanded he protect us. It was affecting my brother and me more than him. The tears flowed. He was scared to divorce. I was scared of my mother. We hugged and he committed.

But asking for the final act in breaking the family up as I did destroys the dream of having a normal family with the people you love most.

It hurt my brother and me greatly. I didn’t come remotely close to my potential in the Leaving Cert. The effect my mother’s alcoholism had on me and the effect of the guilt of knowing you ordered the break-up of your family has resulted in a stunted growth. I had to repeat my Leaving Cert. I have taken six years to complete a three-year degree.

My father struggled with societal perceptions of divorce and separation and lost family over it.

But if there is a message for parents it is this: Don’t defer or shun your responsibility towards your children. If you have a toxic relationship that is overflowing into your children’s space, get out as quickly as possible for your children’s sake.

Margaret: ‘One loving parent is enough’ I am the grown-up offspring of parents who went through intense animosity on their way to separation. Divorce is neither good nor bad. However I resent Irish family law for making an already nasty experience even worse by drawing it out over seven long years.

The sooner separating parties can be amicable, the better it is for the children’s personal development as young adults. I have seen selfish desires (for revenge, money or the family home) blind masses of parents to what is right.

From personal experience, I have found two parents to be a burden, yet having one good loving parent is more than enough to enable a child to grow up, if not entirely happily, certainly relatively normally.

Nessa: ‘They spent thousands on legal fees’ When I was 16, my dad left to be with someone else. It is hard to articulate just how devastating it is to a family when the dynamic is shattered like that.

All of us children reacted differently. I took it out on my mother, telling her it was her fault and, in one cringing memory, telling her, “It was no wonder he left”.

My parents have been apart for more than two decades now. They were in and out of court for 15 years, arguing about custody of my youngest sister, the family home, maintenance. It was an unbelievably stressful period.

They spent thousands on legal fees while we had winters with no heating, months of beans on toast and the phone being cut off. All the daughters of that marriage are married now, some with children. I cannot know what the future holds for my marriage but I will never put my children through the years of fighting, cynicism and betrayal that my parents put us all through.

HUSBANDS

Eamon: ‘Separation is a recipe for poverty’ After eight years, I’ve just got divorced. It took a long time. First we tried mediation. It was amicable but I had a strong sense that I needed independent advice. We both took solicitors and went into settlement talks twice, with no agreement.

It was tremendously stressful. The main issue was maintenance and how much I could reasonably afford. We ended up in court where the finances were decided once and for all. The outcome was fair.

I have a great relationship with my kids, so I have to interact with my ex quite a lot. Family occasions are always awkward. My partner is a big part of my kids’ lives but my ex and she do not interact with each other.

I now want to move on and to put this whole episode behind me.

If I had known then what was ahead of me, I would have tried my very best to rectify the many problems in our marriage, but of course it takes the good will of two people to do this.

Separation, when the family is large, is a recipe for poverty. You have to talk to a financial adviser as soon as possible.

That said, I’m happily divorced now. I’m glad I voted Yes in 1995. Francis: ‘My ex and I have a friendly relationshipI separated from my wife more than 20 years ago. She had an affair. She wanted to go away with her new partner and have sole access to our son, then a toddler. I wanted joint custody but she left anyway while I looked after her son for a year as she lived her new single life.

We went through mediation and worked out a divorce plan. This was very important I think as it allowed us to discuss our problems and what we wanted and we gave our mediation agreement to our respective lawyers. This helped to keep costs down. I served her with a divorce decree and in 2006 we were divorced, with joint custody, I being the de facto primary carer.

I pay all medical, dental and education needs for our son. She receives the children’s allowance.

I lost my job two years ago and had to fight to get a social welfare payment for my son.

I retrained and got a new job. Revenue gives single child carer credit to the primary carer who in their reasoning is the parent receiving the children’s allowance.

I am in a low-paid job now, struggling but making ends meet. I am still staying positive, though, and still sharing custody of our teenage son. My ex-wife and I have a polite and friendly relationship. I am lucky, as I know too many men who can’t even get more than a few hours access to their children.

WIVES

Áine: ‘The loneliness is the hardest part’ Sixty seconds . . . that’s the time it took for the judge to change my status, to close three decades of my marriage. It cost us €1,000 and a couple of half-days in court. After a difficult separation agreement, which cost €10,000, we decided to handle the divorce with an online adviser and manage it ourselves.

I left my family home almost 10 years ago, taking the children with me to a house I had rented. I don’t think he thought I would actually go.

When I left he had already moved on, I don’t think he really changed his lifestyle much. He found someone and is in a relationship. I am on my own.

Life is a struggle now, financially to provide a home and to support my children, but it’s my life and I am in control of it.

The financial situation doesn’t allow for much socialising. I would love to have someone in my life, to share things with but that is the hardest part. Single and 50 is not a good mix in Ireland. Social events are couples and bars. I go to the cinema and theatre on my own . . . but would love to share those things with a like-minded person.

The loneliness is the hardest part. You could spend a day not speaking to anyone. However, do I regret it? Only for the children’s financing needs.

For myself? Best thing I decided to do.

Susan: ‘We have both since remarried’ I am one of the lucky ones. My first husband and I divorced in 2005. Our son was nine years old and I had a teenage stepdaughter from my husband’s first marriage. Our relationship with the children and their happiness was paramount and at no point did either of us use them for bargaining.

We did a DIY divorce costing about €300. There was a lot of leg work involved but it was worth it not to have to pay the huge amounts of money a solicitor and barrister would have cost. I have no doubt either that appointing a solicitor would have muddied the waters between us as the dividing of assets would have taken centre stage, instead of the children. As it is, our relationship 10 years on is strong and honest and the children did not have to go through the additional turmoil of us fighting over stupid things. We have both since remarried.

Yvonne: ‘A text to tell me our marriage was over’ In the space of two months, my husband stopped loving me. Fifteen years and two kids later, it took my now ex-husband only 30 seconds to write a text to tell me our marriage was over.

We found ourselves in that holy hell the Family Law Court where people’s most intimate details are revealed and discussed in open air. It reminded me of how I felt when I gave birth.

For a long time I felt humiliated and people even asked me if I had had an affair. I have lost many people and other people have come back into my life.

The worst thing of all is I feel I have let my children down. I never wanted them to be part of a “broken family”.

I thank God I never stopped working. My eldest son said to me he is relieved that I work. He said he is proud of me so maybe I am doing something right.

Claire: ‘Divorce is about growth and change’ I left Ireland on a fiancee visa to marry an American over 10 years ago. One daughter and 12 years later we filed for divorce. I say “we” deliberately here. Neither of us had the funds to hire attorneys. I had some qualified friends who chimed in with advice but I successfully filed and finalised our divorce independently of any representation.

It was a very angry break-up. Creating space to have civil discussions was not easy. It was also terrifying to be alone with a mortgage and bills and no second income – so far from home.

The temptation to run home to my folks was huge. I bought two one-way tickets, which I (wisely) reneged on.

I received sage advice that I followed: 1) put your child first; 2) face your fears. In so doing I have had no choice but to find ways to continue to maintain civil communication with my ex.

Divorce is not easy. But it is easier than being married and stuck in a rut where I imagined no future, no real change and no way out. Divorce is also about growth and the complete acceptance of change.

Ultimately, I have learned that to stand on my own two feet as a woman and a mother is the best possible thing I can do for both myself – and my daughter.

Helen: ‘Things changed after he met someone else’

I was with my ex-husband for 10 years including three years of marriage. I never felt truly loved or respected during this time so when our daughter was still a toddler, I made the decision to make a new life for her and me.

The relationship with my ex in the first few years after separation was amicable, and he showed my daughter love and supported her. Things changed dramatically after he met someone else. Verbal and mental abuse from his new partner followed, towards both myself and my daughter. He isolated himself from everyone including his parents, siblings and our daughter.

More than a decade later, I still have to fight for him to support her financially. It is more than two decades since we met and I feel I will never be free of this heartache. My daughter has been permanently emotionally damaged.

Catherine: ‘Make sure you have paperwork’

After spending thousands to get the separation agreement in place, I decided to do the divorce bit myself. With the help of a friend, who has a small business doing this, I armed myself with the necessary paperwork.

I was familiar with the court but that didn’t make it any less daunting for somebody representing themselves, all those people in the black suits, arms full of files and pulling little trolleys of paperwork behind them.

My first court date was adjourned because the other party didn’t turn up.

On the second, the other party didn’t turn up again, and the judge threw me out as my paperwork was incorrect. (If the other party had turned up the paperwork would have been correct). I cried all the way home.

On the third and final date the other party turned up and amazingly the judge seemed to remember me and dealt with our case first.

I would encourage other people to do this procedure themselves, but make sure you have paperwork to cover all scenarios.

Janice: ‘I knew the moment he stopped loving me’

Never a good match, we somehow survived 20 years together. I knew the moment he stopped loving me, although it took another two years to come to a crunch. It took five more years after separation to dissolve. An unnecessary State cruelty I feel.

I still can’t quite believe he found someone else to marry and I can’t believe I wish him well.

Now, we share a careful division of property, a sometimes false politeness, an ocean of memories and co-ownership of a box full of what looks like photos of other people. The only dignity each of us kept during the bad times was the preserve of our son’s glowing eyes and loving heart. The only promise we didn’t break. And into the next generation a modern family comes.

Eimear: ‘I am grateful for my career’

My ex-husband never accepted that there was a problem, refused to engage in counselling and eventually refused to leave the family home.

I am grateful for my career which gave me the option of leaving the family home, which still tends to be a rare outcome in this day and age. I wake every morning with a load off my shoulders.

I have recently obtained a judicial separation, the only option open to me as my ex-husband refused to mediate from the beginning.

My cynical eye would say that the court system essentially is one that settles the “fight over money” with little appetite to get involved in the nuances of child welfare unless the children are very young or there are serious concerns for their safety.

For teens “shared parenting” is a given and essentially it is up to you and your ex to try and work out a system of child care. All very aspirational, especially if there is ongoing hostility between the parties, leaving openings for the teens to exploit the situation for their personal gain. This is my greatest concern for the coming years.

However, I can honestly say that I am a much happier person.

Marie: ‘I was treated as the man’

My husband gave up work when our child was born and has never worked since. He was given the proceeds of the sale of the marital home, half my occupational pension and maintenance. I was treated as the “man”.

He dragged me through many courts trying to prove I was an unfit mother and should have no access to our child.

Now, 10 years after our divorce my grown-up child and I have a brilliant relationship. There is life, great life, after divorce. I’m living proof.

Olivia: ‘I was not trapped like my mother’

The day of the divorce referendum in 1995 I was 19 with a baby girl that was a week old. My parents had being separated for five years at this stage and I was only too happy to vote in favour of the dissolution of their awful, violent and torturous-to-their-children union.

I can still smell the school hall as I went in, it was mid-afternoon and there was dust in the air along with absolute silence. I went to the box and cast my ballot secure in the knowledge that I’d done my bit for the freedom of so many.

Maybe I knew something then that I would never have admitted because after three more babies and a violent end to my own marriage I needed to make use of the divorce referendum that I had voted for. I never think of it but to feel a sense of joy that I was not trapped like my mother had been and that I had been part of the change that I didn’t even know I would need.

Maureen: ‘It was the hardest thing I ever did’

My marriage broke down three years ago after less than 12 months of marriage. My husband had a drink problem that he would not acknowledge. We had an infant daughter and I could not bring her up in that environment.

Leaving a man I still loved was the hardest thing I ever did. For a long time I blamed myself for marrying him. It is only now I can say I did the right thing. I’m still emotionally fragile and can’t see myself getting involved in another relationship; I don’t want to feel that level of heartbreak again.

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