Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: My ex-wife makes excuses when I try to see my son

Dear Virginia,

My wife and I went through a bitter divorce last year – I can't imagine ever speaking to her again, to be honest. But what upsets me is my access to my seven-year-old son. I'm meant to see him every weekend for a day, but nearly every time I go to pick him up she makes some excuse, so I barely see him once a month. I understand why she might want to punish me for my part in the break-up, but why punish my son as well? I'm thinking of going to court. I'm in bits about this.

Yours sincerely,


There are two things holding you back from seeing your son. One is your wife's unreasonable behaviour – and that's a huge hurdle, I agree. But the other hurdle is your own overpowering anger.

I have no idea why you broke up, or what prompted the split or who, if anyone, was to blame. But things with your son are never going to be remotely tolerable if your whole attitude is one of "I can't imagine ever speaking to her again" and "I'm thinking of going to court."

For God's sake, Greg, you're not living together any more. You don't have to see your wife every day. Can't you at least calm down a bit for the sake of your son?

I'm sure you have every reason to be angry, or, even if you don't, your anger is real and felt. But is there no way you can see a counsellor who you can vent all this anger on, or talk to a friend – and not a friend who will inflame everything by agreeing with you? A friend who will try to put over your wife's point of view, and allow you to see her as someone who is as hurt, vulnerable and irrational as you are?

If I were you, I'd go to any lengths – and I mean any, even if it means losing your worthless pride – to get on some kind of speaking terms with your wife and sort this out. You could apologise for things you haven't done. You could admit you've behaved like a shit even if you haven't. You could pay for things you don't think you should have to pay for. You could, on the rare times you see your son, spend some time making a birthday card or something for her with him. You could contact her parents, your boy's grandparents, and talk about how unhappy you are to them, without casting any blame at all on her. You could contact a friend of hers who you still like and ask if she couldn't just say something to your ex which might make her consider the boy's feelings more than her own. Or perhaps you could suggest a mutual friend goes to collect the boy every weekend, instead of you, so that your ex, if she refuses to let the child out, has the added embarrassment of letting two people down, and is also spared the pain of seeing you at the door. And you could beg to have counselling together – not to get back together, obviously, but for the sake of the child you share.

Your wife seems prepared to damage the only good thing that has come out of this marriage – your son. Don't join in but, rather, do your very best to cherish not only him but the relationship he has with both of you.

At the moment she has pretty much all the power. The only power that you have left may consist of your demeaning yourself and being devious and dishonest. Think of these characteristics not as weaknesses but as part of a useful armoury which will, in the end, get you the result you want.

Readers say...

Ask a friend to help

Greg and his son have rights and they shouldn't be compromised, however upset and confused his former wife may be. Even my ex-husband, an abuser, had rights, but he was barred from being alone with his children, so I had to entertain him to tea once a week. That was hard, but it had to be done. I was professionally advised about the appropriate level of welcome – neither warm nor hostile. The children needed to see him, rather than reinvent him in their heads. Have Greg and his ex-wife a mutual friend who could bring her round to a calm, realistic view of what is appropriate for him and their son? Court proceedings seem a bit fierce at this stage.

Sonia, By email


Don't be afraid of court

Get in touch with the charity Families Need Fathers. The website is There is a national helpline on 0300 0300 363 which is open Monday to Friday between 6pm and 10pm. You probably do need to take your ex to court, and quickly.

However, the good news is that only this week a father I had advised told me he now sees his child every week. It was enough to point out to his ex that if he did go to court, the court would give him contact time and that the court can now apply financial penalties, community service and even jail to the resident parent if they deny contact to the other parent. His ex wised up fast.

Greg, don't be afraid. The courts are well aware of the tactics some mothers use. It is in your son's best interest to know that you and his mother love him and he needs proper contact time with both of you. Lady Lloyd Jones

Chair Designate

Families Need Fathers Cymru, by email


Establish ground rules

It sounds as if your ex-wife is as angry and bitter as you are. I don't mean that critically – it's probably inevitable in the circumstances. So I really think you should go to court. Not to punish your wife, however tempting that must be, but to help both of you to establish some ground rules in neutral territory. The main function of judicial systems in these situations is to focus on your son's needs and try to stop him from being used as a weapon in your post-marital hostilities – he's been through enough already, and deserves as stable a relationship with you as can be achieved. Good luck.

Helen Ross

Poole, Dorset


Be there for your son

This is a very difficult time for you and your son. I know, as this is exactly what happened to me 25 years ago. Firstly, don't waste your time or emotions on going to court, this will only antagonise her more and possibly drag your son into the whole mess. The most important thing is to keep the little time you have with your son a special occasion, something that he will look forward to and enjoy.

Don't criticise your ex to him, either speak positively about her or not at all, she is his mother and this will only upset and confuse him. If you can call him, then do it regularly on a set day each week. After a while he will demand to see you and she will relent. Both my sons were kept from me for several years but eventually their mother had to allow free access and I now have three wonderful grandsons and I am part of a large happy family. It will be painful at first but think of his long-term happiness, be there for him and keep in constant touch. If she loves him she will see that keeping him from you is making him unhappy.

Dave Wisdom


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