My case started in December 2011, a week before Christmas, when I returned home from work to find my house looking like the scene of a burglary, and my partner and our 3 year old daughter gone. No note, no text, nothing. I was devastated and felt that the biggest part of my life had been ripped from me, especially as I’d been primary carer for our daughter for approximately 60% of the time since her mother had returned to work over two years previously.
I spoke to my solicitor, and commenced Children Act proceedings. At the same time, I joined FNF (Families Need Fathers) with the hope that I would get some support and advice from people with real life experiences. I got both, in spades. More importantly, and partly because I was getting that support so early on in the case, I was able to listen and act on that advice.
Long story short, it’s been a struggle, and there have been times when I felt I couldn’t go on. And plenty of times when my bank balance has felt the same. My daughter had been taken over 300 miles away. I didn’t see her for weeks, or even have a phone call over Christmas. When I was allowed to see her, I was only allowed supported contact, although with no reason. I persevered, often driving for 5 hours each way just to spend 2 or 3 hours with her. I couldn’t even take my daughter out initially, and it wasn’t until on the steps of the court for the initial hearing that I was offered the chance to see her for more than 3 hours once a fortnight.
Although the case was started at my local court, it was transferred to the court in their new area.
However, I was able to put a very strong case together that was entirely child focused. I got a school place, and lined up childminders. I showed that our daughter would have a safe, secure home and a stable routine, and that I was completely committed to simply being a good dad. I didn’t rise to any of the bait, and refused to get into any mudslinging.
Less than 7 months after our initial hearing, I was given a contact order for alternate weekends staying contact, as well as half of all holidays. My relationship with my daughter is fantastic now, and we’ve had some amazing times together. She knows she has a safe and secure home with me, and whilst there are some challenges still, she is adjusting really well. She clearly values and benefits from knowing that she can count on me to be there when I say I’ll be there and the effort I’ve put in has paid dividends in her acceptance of the situation.