Growing up in the Catholic faith, Bernard* had always thought that, when he got married, it would be a union that would last a lifetime. That belief was further strengthened when he fell in love with his wife and settled into a happy marriage in 2006. In the early stages, the couple were deeply in love and soon completed their family with daughter. So, in 2018 when his wife asked for a divorce, Bernard’s world completely fell apart.
Bernard had put his career on hold, returning home from work early daily to raise his daughter while his wife pursued her career full time. She travelled a lot for work and worked long hours. In her absence, Bernard developed a very close relationship with his only daughter now 11 who has special needs. Bernard knew that stability was important for his daughter so he was desperate to save the marriage and initially thought that, with some work and counselling, they could make it happen.
Unable to Reconcile
“But on hindsight now I realise that her mind was set from the very start,” Bernard recalls. “She had started a relationship with a third party and was fully committed to it, although I did not know this at the time. She refused to go for counselling. She wanted a quick exit from our marriage.”
However, Bernard was far from ready to move on. Still reeling from the shock, he refused the divorce on the grounds of his faith. She would always be his wife in the eyes of God. Realising that Bernard wasn’t going to back down, she tried to settle the custody of his daughter during the mediation. The negotiations very quickly turned acrimonious and his wife finally filed for divorce citing his unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce and seeking at first to cut off and eventually to limit his access to his daughter.
All Bernard wanted was his wife and daughter back. At first, he contested the divorce, but as matters dragged on, he could see the negative effect it was having his daughter. Wanting to put her interests first, he eventually withdrew his defence, allowing his wife to divorce him in a manner that wouldn’t break his religious vows.
At first, he contested the divorce, but as matters dragged on, he could see the negative effect it was having his daughter. Wanting to put her interests first, he eventually withdrew his defence, allowing his wife to divorce him in a manner that wouldn’t break his religious vows.
A year and a half away from his daughter
For about one and a half years, he couldn’t visit his daughter. The only way for him to gain contact with his daughter was to volunteer at her school and have momentary talks with her. As heart-breaking as it was, he decided to stay away from his special needs daughter as he knew that disruption to her daily routine would impact negatively on her and Bernard had to put his daughter’s best interests before his own.
A bitter divorce
The court agreed to grant Bernard access to his daughter for a couple of nights a month and he cherished this special time he could spend with her. But divorce proceedings became even more bitter when his wife contested this saying that his daughter did not want to see him and that it was too disruptive for his daughter to cope with. Her repeated summonses continued to drag the case out.
In the early days, I was completely lost. I didn’t know how to make the simplest of decisions.
Seeking guidance from the Church and support group
Right from the outset, Bernard turned to his family and Church community for support, attending a Surviving Divorce Programme and getting direction from his priest in separate weekly meetings. His family also rallied round him to offer him counselling and support.
“In the early days, I was completely lost. I didn’t know how to make the simplest of decisions,” Bernard recalls. “But things became clearer with the guidance I received from my priest, family and the Church community.”
The entire experience has brought him closer to God: “I pray a lot more and have learned to detach myself from possessions and relationships and attach myself to God,” Bernard explains.
He also teaches his daughter to put God first in all that they do and that He will look after her.
Putting God first
“Now I’m taking one step at a time, putting God first, seeking His guidance and focusing on spending quality time with my daughter during my access time with her, and on rebuilding my career. I feel particularly close to the Blessed Virgin Mary as she guides me to come closer to God. She is the driving force for me being a good example to my daughter.”
Today, Bernard’s sights are always on God and he knows that by putting God first, He will provide.
This story was first published on the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family’s website.
*Bernard is a pseudonym.