by Patricia Siswandjo on

They share meals, watch the latest blockbusters, and chat about life. The doting father also does his best to support his daughter’s interests and hobbies.

“For example,” he said, “she likes animals and I have taken her to the animal shelter to find out more about volunteering there.”

Quality above quantity, for Adrian Lee (not his real name) may not spend as much time with his daughter as he would like, but he ensures each hour spent with her is full of love and laughter.

And from the indulgent way the 40-year-old talks about her, it’s no surprise Lee considers his 15-year-old daughter his life’s greatest treasure.

But life wasn’t always so rosy for Lee and his daughter.

In 2015, Lee and his then wife of 12 years, filed for a divorce. His daughter was only 10 years old at the time. We are not using his real name in order to protect her identity.

The heartbreaking effects of divorce on a family

“Prior to the divorce, I enjoyed a very close relationship with my daughter,” Lee said. “But the long divorce process affected my daughter very badly.”

He added sadly: “She became withdrawn and on the rare occasions I met her, she was not the lively child she used to be.”

Lee recalled his daughter being very studious and sociable.

“She loved to go to school and enjoyed playing with her school mates,” he said fondly. But during the height of the divorce proceedings, when she was in Primary 5, the stress took its toll on her.

“Her form teacher informed me that she was absent from school for a total of 45 days!” said Lee. But he could only worry hopelessly from a distance.

That’s because his ex-wife kept his daughter from him.

After the divorce, Lee was given visiting rights to his daughter for meals twice a week. His daughter was also supposed to stay with him every alternate weekend.

That didn’t happen.

“During the first two years after the divorce, my wife denied me access to my daughter,” Lee recalled sadly. “Her mobile number was changed without me knowing. I went through patches of six to nine months without seeing my child.”

Lee believes his ex-wife did that in order to spite and hurt him.

These days, he is able to see his daughter more regularly. “But my daughter still has to lie to her mother in order to conceal the fact that we are meeting,” Lee said.

Lee feels that no matter how acrimonious their divorce, his daughter, as with other children in similar situations, should be left out of the quarrel. “There are many cases of such distraught children, and none of them should be used as pawns in these mind games by their parents.”

By now, you would have read about the shocking Father’s Day murder and subsequent attempted suicide last month. On Jun 16 (Father’s Day), Ashley Clare Teo’s life was taken away from her by the very person who helped raise her – her father.

The bright and bubbly two-year-old girl was beloved by all who knew her. Little Ashley, who would have turned three in October, was described by those who knew her as cheeky and very friendly. She would also often wave to those she recognised.

The father, JohnBoy John Teo, had gone through a divorce with Ashley’s mother just three months before the episode, with Ashley’s mother having full custody of her.

Lee was utterly shocked and heartbroken when he first read about Ashley’s murder. “It is very sad to read about such news,” he said sadly. “Children are the innocent party and don’t deserve a fate like that.”

Divorce is tough on everyone involved

Speaking to The Pride, senior divorce lawyer and Head of Family Law at PKWA Law Mr Lim Chong Boon said: “In Singapore, the norm is to award ‘joint custody’ because the courts are of the view that both parents should have the joint responsibility to make major decisions for the child.”

As such, he does not believe that a bias exists against fathers when it comes to custody.

“However,” he added, “it is admittedly true that mothers do tend to receive care and control of the children.”

Nevertheless, divorce offers a unique set of challenges to both parties.

“Perhaps, a divorced father who has access rights only gets to see the child several times a week and that makes the divorced father’s job more difficult. But, a divorced mother may be the one who has to look after the child, take the child to tuition classes, take care of his studies, whereas the divorced father’s job during visiting hours is just to play and pamper the child,” he said.

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Image Source: Shutterstock / MiniStocker

Mr Lim suggested: “Overall, both parents should put their personal conflicts aside and co-parent with a common set of principles. Because, ultimately, the responsibility rests on both parents to cooperate with each other to ensure that the children feel safe to continue their relationships with both parents after the divorce.

“I think it is key that parents put aside their personal differences for the sake of their children’s future.”

Kindness needs to be shown between the divorced couple

Speaking to The Pride, Ms Andrea Chan, senior counsellor of TOUCH Youth Intervention, explained that divorce is a decision that affects the entire family unit.

Quite often, swept up in the storm that is a separation, children suffer needlessly at the hands of their parents’ petty squabbles.

She said: “We saw a seven-year-old boy whose primary school application was affected due to his parents’ divorce. Due to the mother’s animosity towards the father, she refused to go for the registration together with the father.

“She also threatened the child, saying she would stop loving him if he was caught speaking to his father. The father also refused to give in to his ex’s demands.

“As a result, the child felt frustrated at the situation he was in and started being defiant towards his teachers at school. He also suffered from separation anxiety with both parents, crying whenever his father or mother brought him to the childcare centre.”

Ms Chan suggested that instead of being bitter and focusing on how to go ‘one-up’ against the other parent, divorced parents should put aside their differences for the sake of the child.

She said: “For example, during counselling, we got them to identify the common goals they would like for their child. These sessions also helped them explore and negotiate their future contributions and roles in their child’s life, with their animosity and preference for minimal contact with each other being taken into account. Boundaries were drawn by both parents on what they could and could not do with their child.

“Successful co-parenting can only occur if both parents place the interests of their child above the resentment they feel in their own relationship.”

Single dads do find it especially hard to cope at times

Thinking back to the first few years after his divorce, Lee highlighted several stress points of parenting as a divorcee – and specifically, as a divorced father.

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Image Source: Shutterstock / Treetree2016

“There is very little help from the authorities to help divorced fathers,” he said. “While we are swiftly punished if we fail to pay maintenance on time, we are frustrated by bureaucracy if we want to highlight that we are denied access to our children.”

And Lee didn’t get much help when he tried contacting the authorities for assistance regarding his limited visiting opportunities with his daughter.

“The authorities said all they could do was to invite both parties for mediation, which I knew would not work,” he said.

Sharing his personal experience, Lee said: “During mediation itself, I also got the impression that the counsellor just wanted to close the case fast and was not interested in a more complete investigation. That frustrated me to no end.”

Fortunately for Lee, those days are over. Due to personal problems, his ex-wife has been unable to watch over their daughter as closely as she used to, and these days, Lee is able to spend much more time with his daughter.

Change, of any kind, is hard. A divorce, especially, results in broken hearts for everyone involved – and often, the ones who suffer most are the children.

As parents, you can’t always give your kids the whole, unbroken family unit you envisioned.

But you can still be loving, positive role models for your kids during this challenging transition, by imparting healthy coping mechanisms to help them manage their emotions and find their inner strength in adversity.

With a little bit of graciousness and kindness, we can ensure a bad situation doesn’t have to get ugly.