Dear Mrs Macaulay,
My ex and I have a child who is three. He lives in another parish. We have had a combative relationship, but have tried working together so that our daughter can have both parents in her life. We're now both married to different people. I have custody by court order and he has liberal access. He requested that access be through phone calls and e-mail updates. My problem is that much of our communication is by e-mail, and my ex is constantly abusive to me. Whenever I attempt a conversation about our child's future, he diverts to things that happened in the past. He then resorts to using dirty names to describe me. A few months ago my husband intervened and my ex responded by doing the same thing to my husband, insulting him, and calling me names again. I blocked his e-mail account for a while, then unblocked it, but still the abuse continues. I told him that we should move on from the past and try to discuss our daughter's future, but every conversation is a nightmare. He leaves dirty messages on my voicemail.
I don't know what else to do. I don't want to deny him access, but I don't think I should be subject to abuse, or be forced to communicate with someone who constantly belittles me. I've tried suggesting that we use his family as mediators, however, he said no to this. What do you suggest? I'm afraid to even open e-mails from him, as I never know what he will say, and I'm tired to being put down everytime I try to facilitate a phone call. What can I do to ensure that he has his access, but at the same time, doesn't cause me grief?
You say that you and your ex had a combative relationship, but you have tried working together, so that your daughter can have both parents in her life. However, from what you have described of his conduct during the exercise of his "liberal access", he is clearly not on the same page with you in this regard. You state that though he has liberal access by virtue of a court order, that he requested his access to be by way of phone calls and e-mail updates. This despite the fact that he does not live on the other side of the world, but only in another parish clearly within Jamaica. Is this really a father who wishes to be part of his daughter's life, if he cannot manage to travel to the parish in which she resides to see her? To my mind, phone calls and e-mail updates are not a proper exercise of access to a child, especially one of such tender years; and especially when both parents and child live in the same small country.
What surprises me, is that you say you do not wish to deny him access to your daughter, despite his wrongful and unacceptable conduct. Is this the kind of person who should speak with a three-year-old? Do you know what he says to her when he speaks to her? These are questions you must ask yourself. Another is, is it in your child's best interest to be exposed to someone who clearly cannot control his emotions, temper and conduct?
I would suggest that you go back to court to revisit his liberal access order on the basis of his conduct as you have described, and the fact that you cannot be certain what he has, and what he might say to your young daughter about you. It would not be in her best interest to be exposed to the kind of names, dirty messages and insulting words which I imagine he has used and is using with you. The court should know what has been occurring since the order has been made, so that it can decide what would best serve the interest of your child in the circumstances. It may be that the court orders counselling for him, or for you both to be able to be comfortable with the past and live your present lives with your respective spouses without any baggage hanging around.
I must just say this, I applaud your attempts to involve the child's father in discussing matters relating to her future when you have legal custody by order of the court, because legally you are entitled to make all decisions relating to your daughter's life without having to consult with him. You have clearly been acting as a very sensitive person in inviting him to discuss these matters with you and he ought to have appreciated your gestures in this regard. He clearly does not have an appreciative bone in his body, nor is he, it seems from what you have related, really interested in playing a real parental role in his daughter's life. He has no right to insult you in any way or form, nor do you have to suffer this, because you wish him to have access. The voicemail messages that he leaves for you which you described as dirty, may in fact amount to offences for which he can be prosecuted. Do not continue to leave yourself open to his abusive conduct. So please in relation to your child, let the court examine his conduct and make the appropriate orders which would secure and ensure the welfare and best interest of your daughter.
Finally, his conduct is abusive of you, it is clearly mental and emotional abuse and as he is you ex-spouse, you can apply to the court under the Domestic Violence Act for a protection order to restrain him from using abusive language etc to you. You should also seriously consider making this application at the same time as you make the one for a variation of his access order which I have suggested above. I hope you look at these suggestions of mine because I sincerely believe they are the only means by which you may be able to achieve the kind of parental relationship you hope he will have with your daughter in the future.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law and a women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions and comments via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.