Divorcing a Child

How does a family once whole, now separate, continue? In our case it didn’t.

When I got divorced, I went to court with shared custody as part of my plan for my nine year old son. I had reservations about custody, but I felt at the time it was the right thing to do.

We tried to build a family as all new parents do. I was pregnant one month after we said “I do”. Art’s family was large, he was the oldest of five siblings. They were all close in age and have many of the same tendencies psychologically. Their extended family included aunts, uncles and cousins in large numbers.

My family had passed. I brought friends to my marriage. They were my family. I always thought is was easier on my ex-husband because he didn’t have to deal with anyone representing my side. I can say proudly, my friends did indeed step up when things got way out of hand ( that is another blog story).

I can say this, if my parents were alive and witnessed our marital challenges they would have most definitely interceded. But then without a doubt, I wouldn’t have my son. A son that means the world to me.

I was welcomed into the in-law household and family of seven. They initially presented themselves as a model clan. I did see a domineering father, alcohol issues, and a family structure that seemed off balance. I later found out there was abuse and a host of other damaging things this family hid. Only to be unraveled as time went by.

I was taken into the family kitchen a few years into my relationship by my mother in-law to be Margaret. She told me that I should really “think” about marrying her son. She intimated it could be difficult. I took her words and put them in a place I returned to often throughout our relationship. Mothers always know their sons the best. I think she knew she had no affect on me and professed that she “was gaining another daughter” when I agreed to marry her eldest son. Believe me, another daughter she didn’t need.

His mother was very devout religiously. She attended church daily, was raised by strict Catholic rules and lived her life accordingly. She had two sisters, Helen and Barbara. After Margaret told me she wouldn’t be attending my wedding because I wasn’t Catholic, her sister Barbara called me one day out of the blue. She told me my wedding to her nephew would not be a real wedding because we were not being married by a priest in a church. She explained any children we would have would in her view, would be illegitimate. She staunchly declared she would NOT be attending. Her sister Helen just never responded to her invitation. Margaret eventually changed her mind and did attend the wedding.

During my marriage she would send me letters of her concern about my faith and values. She wrote that because (she felt) I wasn’t praying enough and her son didn’t have the faith he should, that was the reason for the discord within our union. She mentioned Novena’s or the lack of.

My son was born and it was a happy day. Oh how I missed my mother. One of my best friends, Pam was in my mother’s place in the delivery room. She was and is an amazing woman. She was well aware of the dynamics of my relationship with my husband and his family. I trusted her with my life, as I knew my husband wasn’t really paying attention in that labor room.

The evening we brought my son home from the hospital, my husband’s brother was getting married. He went to the wedding and I called Pam to come stay with me until he returned. I had no clue what I was doing. She was a mother, a good mother and knew what to do. I repeatedly called my husband to come home, he ignored me.

They had all kinds of family gatherings, Christmas, birthdays, celebrations, the works! Art’s sister Mary took care of my son when I first returned to work a few days a week. She loved my son and I appreciated what she did. They embraced him and loved him. She had three children of her own so it was a house that was fun.

I was diagnosed with severe post pardum depression. Pam lived forty-five minutes away and worked as a busy clinical social worker. I felt I had no one. My husband would go to work and I would be alone with my new baby. I eventually sought treatment, got medication and after about a year I began to feel brighter and better.

Throughout my marriage things were always pensive. I never knew what my husband’s personality would be walking through the front door when he came home from work. I returned to work and it was a balance act as many parents know. As the years went by Art became more and more detached from us. He would eat dinner then go off by himself.

He explained to me prior to marriage that he had turned away from his church as he didn’t believe in structured religion. He did attend an all Catholic grade school, high school and a Jesuit college. He said he believed religion was a cult.

As my son grew up it was more often than not just the two of us. We got a cockapoo puppy. She was love at first sight and to this day! His father would try to engage with his son. He went with us too little league baseball games, he was an assistant coach for a while. He was so caught up in his own mind that there was little room for a child, not to mention a wife.

Growing up at his family’s dinner table the children were not permitted to speak. I foolishly thought when we had dinner or a meal, he would change and have a conversation. He talked when we were dating, why the switch? That all ended after we were married. In my childhood home we discussed everything at dinner. I wasn’t used to silence. We would go out to diner as a married couple and he would not say one word throughout the entire meal. He spoke to the waitress and ordered his meal, but nothing after that. When we got in the car to come home he would say what a great time he had. It really makes one question their own mind when this occurs. I saw dangerous things beginning to happen. Red flags began popping up as my son grew older.

So the decision to divorce came after things in the house had gotten to a point of no return. My son was eight years old and heard things no child should have. The last argument we had, my son heard and I was sick about it. I asked Art to leave the house, he would not.

During an argument I was told “God is going to punish you!” I said, “I don’t believe in a God who punishes people”. He retorted and said these words that truly ended it all for me. He said, “You don’t believe that huh, look at what happened to six million Jews!” My son was in my bedroom, we were in the hallway arguing and he heard it all. He asked me that night, “Mommy can we get a lock for this bedroom door, can I stay in here with you tonight?”

Art never showed up to court, so by our state laws he defaulted. I got full custody and he got supervised visitations upon court approval. It was a difficult day. Pam was with me as I had to call him at work and tell him we were legally divorced. The court papers still sitting on his nightstand indicating the court date and other important information. I refer to him as my son throughout this story as that is how I have felt for some time. Of course he has a father, but a non participating father doesn’t really “count” to me. I have never said anything disparaging to my son about his father, I never saw the point. He would grow up and come to his own conclusions.

Over the next ten years, my son has seen his father approximately fifteen times. He lives one block east of our house. Not one family member has ever called our home, sent birthday cards, made any effort to contact him in any way. He went to a few Christmases, I can’t even remember the years. His grandfather had passed but his grandmother, alive and well never remembers how old he is. When she would on occasion send him a card, it would go to my ex-husband’s address, be opened then get forwarded to our house. I never really understood that. His father sent him birthday cards in the regular mail.

So you get married, have a child and become part of your husbands extended family for fourteen years. You help them as in-laws, support them whenever asked, attend family functions, weddings, funerals, etc. Then your husband’s sister moves in with you because her parents through her out with her baby. (They stayed for over a year) Bonds are formed. Facades are built.

One entire family consisting of about 20 close relatives just drop your child from their collective lives. No contact, love or family interaction. Silence since the age of nine. My name is primarily on the divorce papers, ( my divorce) except for the college part…wanna guess how that has gone financially regarding support?

Now I think it’s just how it all turned out. I have been a single mother for a very long time and we manage well. I have no control over anyone’s actions except my own. You can’t force a family to love a child. Who knows what damage has been done psychologically to him because of their actions or non-actions. They all collectively just stopped their relationship with a nine year old child who is now nineteen. He takes it in stride, he sees his father on his own terms now, one block away. I don’t interfere, I just watch and listen. I’m here if he needs me.

Bonds are broken, it happens all the time. There is enough damage done when a family brakes and a divorce occurs. To abandon a child, distance a family, ignore a life, is a division that will resonate for a lifetime.

Divorcing a child is sad.

Photo by Alex Smith on Pexels.com


  1. Their loss. He’s a fine young man. It is sad, however. I often wonder how he really feels about it. Good thing you and your people love him so much.


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