Daniel was always close to his daughter Kelly. Even though he was divorced from Kelly’s mom, Amy, he and Amy got along well and divided their time with Kelly almost 50/50. Rather than alienating each other, Daniel and Amy supported each other as parents for their precious little girl.
Daniel and his little girl had long phone conversations and Skype exchanges, sometimes lasting twenty minutes. They also exchanged text messages and emails. They enjoyed a little smack talk when they played video games together. They were very close and their bond was strong.
As time passed, Amy had to move to Florida because of her job. Daniel was devastated. He felt like he’d been run over by a freight train. Daniel filed for a Modification of Custody. The parties went to court for a temporary hearing, and the judge decided to let Kelly move with Amy to Florida. The court case dragged on for months. Daniel made every effort he could to go visit Kelly as often as he could, but gas and hotel stays added up quickly.
Soon, his phone calls were becoming very abrupt. Kelly would cut off the phone conversation in a minute or two, often saying that she didn’t feel like talking. She didn’t want to Skype. She stopped responding to his text messages. She stopped playing the video games they loved to play together.
Daniel became increasingly upset. At first, he didn’t have an attorney because he and Amy had gotten along so well. But now, it was apparent to Daniel that Amy was playing dirty. Obviously, she was disparaging him to Kelly. Surely, she had to be the one behind the lack of communication. He hired an attorney. His attorney sent a letter to Amy’s attorney demanding that the parental alienation stop.
Amy’s attorney was surprised and so was Amy. Amy didn’t monitor the phone calls. They occurred while she was cooking and while Kelly was in her bedroom. She had no idea the conversations were that brief, that Kelly didn’t want to Skype, text, or play video games with her father.
Yeah, right. Daniel didn’t believe that for one minute. Why would his relationship with Kelly take such a sudden turn for the worse if it weren’t for Amy. She could pretend it wasn’t her fault, but he was sure the Court would see right through her lies, through her relentless efforts to alienate him from the prize of his life, his beautiful little girl.
The parties went to mediation, but Daniel was still so hurt by Amy’s sudden betrayal and her turning Kelly against him that he couldn’t settle. He needed to fight for custody of his daughter or risk further alienation caused by her mother.
Still, Daniel couldn’t understand it. They had always gotten along so well. Perhaps it was Amy’s new boyfriend? Maybe he wanted to be Kelly’s father and wanted to push Daniel out of their lives? Being replaced in Kelly’s heart by another man was too much for Daniel. He couldn’t bear to think about it.
Because they couldn’t reach an agreement at mediation, the parties ended up in an all-day, full-blown custody trial. The judge spoke with the Kelly for a long time in chambers.
That afternoon, the judge was ready to make her decision. Before announcing her final ruling, she wanted to talk to the parties and to caution Daniel. Daniel? He was the loving father. Amy was the one at fault. Clearly. How could this be?
Kelly had told the judge that she loved both parents very much. She also told the judge that she loved her new life in Florida. She loved the beach lifestyle and she loved her new school. She was doing much better in school because of her newfound love of learning.
But this happiness made her feel guilty. She was sad because her dad was so sad. She felt guilty for feeling so happy while her dad was so sad. Her young mind didn’t know how to adequately process it, so she avoided her dad.
It wasn’t Mom who turned the child away from Dad after all; it was Dad.
When Daniel told Kelly that he missed her, that he wasn’t sleeping well, that he was depressed, he meant to express to her how loved she was. He didn’t mean to hurt her, but he did. Daniel had no idea how his understandable sadness was devastating his daughter and damaging their relationship.
Parents, you never want to hurt your children but obviously they can be hurt in ways you don’t perceive. Take great care not to hurt your children, even unintentionally. Children shouldn’t be included in conversations about court hearings and custody battles. They shouldn’t have to carry the burden for how you feel. Don’t let your anger toward the other party or legitimate sadness over the present state of affairs blind you to your wrong actions.
Daniel got it. The Judge adjusted Daniel’s child support so that he could far more readily afford to see his daughter. When Daniel stopped burdening Kelly with his sadness, her desire to spend time with her dad shot back up. Now, all are on a path to wholeness and health again.
Remember to always put your children first. Even when it means sheltering them from the freight train running over you to do it.