DESPITE a divorce with “no major conflicts”, Jeff’s two-and-a-half-year custody battle with his former wife rages on.
The main casualties are their two kids.
“No adultery. No physical abuse. There’s no reason why our case is still stuck in court. We don’t have millions to spend.”
The 43-year-old Canadian is a permanent resident of Malaysia.
“Until recently, I’ve had access on weekends and alternate evenings with my eight and six-year-old, driving them to school twice a week.”
“But since April this year, my ex has stopped complying with the court order.”
Worried about their well-being and the long-term effects on them, he applied to charge the ex with contempt of court for denying him access to the children.
“My kids have completely changed in the recent months. From fun times and a loving relationship, they now say they’re scared of me, with nothing transpiring in between.”
There must be repercussions for turning children against their parent, he feels. Offenders must be held accountable. If parents know that they risk losing access to their children or can be heavily fined, parental alienation will stop.
He says the judicial system has failed the children. Kids, he says, must have both parents in their lives.
The former couple’s court proceedings started in November 2014, but it was only 15 months later before Jeff testified for the first time.
“Till today, my cross-examination is ongoing. The court process is long-winded and adversarial.”
He filed an application for variation for maintenance and access sometime in May last year and the decision is still pending. He pays RM15,000 a month in maintenance costs – a sum he says he was forced to agree to, just so that he could see the kids.
“That’s a total of RM465,000 for two small children to date, yet I’m still denied access.”
Another case of parental alienation which recently came to light is the limbo faced by Cheng Chau Yang and her eight-year-old Malaysian son.
Their plight was highlighted by Wanita MCA chief Datuk Heng Seai Kie at a press conference recently.
Cheng and her son are trapped in China after the court in Shanghai imposed a travel ban on them following a request by her ex-husband, a Chinese national.
Cheng had alleged that her ex had whisked their son away to China in 2012. She was only reunited with the child there after a two-year search.
“I had custody but I couldn’t find him and the court refused to help enforce the order.
“Finally, I found my son – who suffers from severe eczema – stuck in a polluted city up north with a relative, registered in a school under a fake identity, and barely able to understand English.”
Cheng brought her son back to Shanghai. But the court banned them from leaving China, three days after the mother-son reunion, even before any of his father’s weekly-visitations was due. No reason was given by the court.
At the end of one court-supervised visit, the man’s family tried to snatch the boy, injuring Cheng’s relatives who were present.
“It happened outside the court and the authorities did nothing. My son was traumatised.
“Because the court said it could not do anything to help me if my son was ever abducted again, I need visitations to be supervised by an impartial third party like a local women’s organisation.”
But her ex-husband refuses to budge. He would rather not see the boy if he can’t take him home unsupervised. And until he gets what he demands, the court says he has the right to renew the travel ban until the boy turns 18.
“The fact that my custody right was not, and will not be protected, the fact that my child dreads meeting his father, and had nightmares after the snatching incident, don’t seem to matter,” laments Cheng.
Fortunately, some divorced parents realise they need to put their differences aside for the sake of their children.
While his ex-wife has custody of his teenage daughter, a divorcee who wishes to be known only as Marcus says neither of them wanted to deprive their child of both parents.
“In my case, there was no need to dictate visitation rights or access. This is as long as I give prior notice to my ex-wife,” says the 49-year-old manager, who visits his daughter once in two weeks.
Sympathising with parents who have been alienated from their children, Marcus describes the situation as “hell on earth” for the affected parent.
“But children are the biggest losers in any divorce,” he says.
However, Marcus points out that staying in an unhappy marriage will not be good for the children either.
“Children will see the shouting matches, or worse, physical or emotional abuses. They may grow up disillusioned about love and marriage,” he says.