By DEIDRE SANDERS
Sun Agony Aunt
WHEN parents are breaking up, the tragedy is that they are often so caught up in their own anger, hurt and turmoil that they have little attention to spare for their children.
Fighting over the home and maybe furious their partner has found a new love, they lash out, little realising that children can’t help identifying with both parents, wanting to love and be loved by them both equally.
Using kids as pawns in the battle is setting them up for long-term emotional damage.
Even if parents cannot live lovingly together, they owe it to their children to remember they can never have another mum or dad.
Unless contact with one parent is going to be dangerous because of violence, drugs, alcohol or mental health problems, both should make every effort to ensure it’s easy and comfortable for the kids to be with them both regularly, even if it means swallowing your rage while you negotiate contact arrangements.
Because this is such a common problem, I have written a special Kids In The Middle guide for separating parents and children on how to handle the hurdles.
Call 0845 602 2290 or go to http://tiny.cc/FGF9j for a free copy.
THOUSANDS of British kids never see their dad again once their parents break up, a shocking new survey has revealed.
More than one in three youngsters – 38 per cent – go without having their father around after their parents split, and nearly one in ten are so traumatised they consider SUICIDE.
The findings, by a leading law firm, also discovered children are being caught in bitter custody battles, and many later turn to drink and drugs.
Sandra Davis, head of family law firm Mishcon de Reya, which surveyed 4,000 people, said: “This research shows that, despite their best intentions, parents are often using their children as emotional footballs.”
Here NIKKI WATKINS, NICK FRANCIS and JENNA SLOAN speak to four people who have been affected by divorce.
We hear from a mum whose husband left for Australia, a man who tracked down his long-lost dad and two fathers who haven’t seen their kids in years.
RICHARD separated from his long-term partner in May 1998, after six years.
The 43-year-old, from Carshalton, Surrey, who is on sick leave from his job as a train-driving instructor, has not seen his 15-year-old daughter for more than eight years, despite suffering with leukaemia.
His ex-partner moved 600 miles away, which makes visiting impossible as his leukaemia treatment is carried out in his home town.
Richard says: “We came to an understanding about contact times that worked out initially.
“Then my ex started mucking about with it. I said, ‘we need to sort this out’, as I didn’t want to go down the route of court because it is expensive and pits parent against parent.
“It becomes a battle of parents rather than what is right for the child.
“The advice I got at the time was to avoid the court system.
“I said that it was in our daughter’s best interests to continue seeing me.”
Richard eventually ended up seeking the advice of a solicitor.
He says: “The day before we were due for a directions hearing my ex phoned me and asked me what I wanted. I said the same as before and she said, ‘that is fine’.
But the situation changed when Richard’s ex got engaged and moved to Scotland.
Richard says: “I got a letter from her solicitor saying the contact schedule wouldn’t work.”
He has since been diagnosed with leukaemia and when faced with chemotherapy told doctors not to worry about his fertility, as he was too traumatised to have more children.
He wrote to his ex and daughter to explain about his illness, but says he got no response.
Richard says: “I don’t get anything back – I haven’t in eight years. I just want an acknowledgement to say my daughter is aware of what has happened and sends her love. It’s an awful situation.
“I know they get to the address because everything is recorded delivery, the birthday presents and Easter eggs.
“I had to have counselling about losing my daughter. It has affected me in a big, big way.
“Children have a right to know both parents.”
MELANIE divorced her husband of 13 years after he left her and their two sons without warning.
When Melanie, 33, came home one day to find hubby Trevor leaving, she thought for a moment that he was going to the shops – before realising he meant he was going for good.
Husband left for Australia … Melanie Crow
He left for a new life in Australia, since then having no contact with sons Oliver, then 3, and Joshua, then 8.
Melanie, a photographer from Durham, says: “Trevor left on March 8, 2008. I wasn’t aware of any real problems in our marriage, just the usual bickering. I came home from work and he said he was leaving.
“My oldest boy Joshua, who is now ten, has a lot of issues and has to see a counsellor.
“Because he was there when his dad was packing his things in the car, he blames himself for his dad leaving.
“My other son, Ollie, who’s five, was only three when his dad left so I think he has got off a bit lighter.
“They are both very clingy, though. I con-stantly have to reassure them.
“I’m worried about how it’s going to affect Ollie in the future. I also worry about my boys because there isn’t a male role model in the house.
“Trevor has my numbers and can get in touch with the boys if he wants, he just chooses not to.
“He took me to court this year to try and get access.
“We came to an agreement that he could come and see them over the summer but just one week before he was due, he cancelled.
“After spending thousands of pounds on a court case in this country, despite not having paid any money for the boys, he goes and disappoints them like that.
“If Trevor is the kind of man who can do this to his family then he’s not the sort of person I want around my kids.”
JAMES TAYLOR tracked down his long-lost dad, James Dennis, 52, through the internet after his parents divorced.
James 33, a mortgage adviser from Glasgow. says: “My mum and dad married when they were 17 and 18, which was very young.
“My dad, who was a welder, moved to Reading to find work and initially my mum went with him. But things didn’t work out and my mum came back to Scotland.
“My parents ended up divorcing and lost contact. I think it was a combination of the pressure on them, as they were so young, and the distance between them.
“I was their only child, and I saw my dad once when I was about seven, but that was it. It didn’t really occur to me to ask about him.
“All I’d ever known was my mum, Brenda, who remarried. But when I went to secondary school I began to wonder why I didn’t have a dad like the other kids did.
“When I was 17 my mum passed away due to complications in childbirth. It really made me think about things and start to question who my family was.
“I have four step-daughters with my wife Georgina and we have a boy Joshua, who is seven. I also have two step-granddaughters.
“Having my own children did make me think even more about getting in touch with my dad. My wife was very supportive but I was worried about finding Dad. What if he didn’t like me?
“In 2006 I logged on to the Genes Reunited website and typed in my father’s name. I hadn’t seen him for 23 years. One match came up that turned out to be my aunt, I was delighted when I got an email from her.
“She passed my contact details on to my dad and we arranged to meet.
“Going to meet him for the first time was very emotional. I’d only seen him in his old wedding picture, with long hair in the 1970s, so I didn’t recognise him straight away.
“But when it finally dawned on me that this was my dad I was thrilled. We have some of the same characteristics – our eyes are similar – and we have similar mannerisms too.
“And I have a half-brother and half-sister that I’d never met, along with aunties, uncles and cousins. I’m so glad I logged on to that website.”
DAD Paul is a full-time carer for his elderly father.
He split with his wife of 25 years and lost contact with his son, then aged seven, 12 years ago.
Lost contact with son … Paul
Paul, 57, from Hampshire, is still coming to terms with his loss. He says: “My wife decided that she wanted the relationship to finish and we divorced.
“Very quickly it became difficult to have contact with my son.
“You get cursory visits once every two weeks. It was difficult right from the beginning, but I saw him for about a year, every other weekend. That isn’t sufficient for a relationship.”
Paul went to court to try tomaintain the contact but thesituation deteriorated.
He says: “If one parent is trying hard to stop contact, the court doesn’t really do anything to enforce contact with the absent parent.”
That is why Paul finds the new statistics about so many children not seeing their fathers unsurprising.
He says: “I wrote many articles and did some charity work for a time for all of the charity groups who were trying to get the system changed.
“I did it because there are probably about a million kids out there who have not got what you could call a decent family.
“If you include the extended family then the number of people involved is just colossal. The figure of 38 per cent doesn’t surprise me at all. It almost destroys you. You miss everything.
“I don’t even know categorically if my son is alive – simple as that.
“I took it all the way to the highest court and that got me experienced in the legal system.
“So I was advising other people how to keep the cost down and how to do it themselves.
“I have moved on now – it took me several years to get to that stage and it was a very desperate state. I have been divorced 12 years now and I fought for five years in the courts. My life could always be better.
“More than anything I would want my son to know that I care and that I am still caring.”