Q: I am a divorced father of four children. My wife left me five years ago when the youngest was four. Our children visit their mother in New Zealand, but always come back to me even though, since she's remarried, she can offer them more luxuries than I ever could. The older children are doing well, but my youngest daughter is a worry. I would describe her "hyper." I couldn't deal with her behaviour, so I sent her to her mother thinking she would have a better life. But she seems very unhappy and has attempted suicide (she was nine). My ex-wife refuses to send her back, and now I'm worried.
A: It seems as though you have generally coped with the challenge of raising your children on your own and providing a home for them. It does sound as if the behaviour of the youngest would have indeed been hard to handle. I believe you felt you were acting in her best interest when you sent her to her mother, so there’s nothing to be gained from feeling guilt about that decision. Rather, let’s consider what can be done for your daughter, because she is in obvious and urgent need of intervention.
Threats of suicide should always be taken seriously and an actual attempt is an even more alarming sign that all is not well. Your daughter was very young to have lost her mother from your family, and it’s possible that on top of her more obvious problems of overactivity she may also suffer childhood depression.
She really needs counselling to help her come to terms with the instability of her life and trauma she may have suffered. I would also suggest she be allowed to have a say in where she wants to live. Even though you may not be able to provide her with as much material “stuff,” you may be the only link to stability she has. Should you be able to gain custody of your daughter again, I would suggest you contact your nearest child mental health service.
I can understand that while you’re very angry with your ex-wife for what has happened, at this stage that must take second place to the more urgent problem of helping your little girl. Whether this happens here or in New Zealand is not an issue.
I have no legal expertise to offer in this case, so I would suggest you contact Legal Aid as a first step. They will offer you a limited number of free sessions, which may be enough to help you decide what you can do about getting your daughter back.