At the end of the school year in 2011, the eight-year-old son of Jozef Bednár was preparing for his final presentation at the school for gifted children. As his classmates cheerfully entered the classroom, they witnessed a traumatic scene.
The father came to see the son’s presentation. He had not lived with his wife and boy for several years. He was carrying a camera with him and provided a record to The Slovak Spectator.
“But I just want to see what you know,” said Bednár, trying to calm the boy, who was fiercely hugging his grandmother and kicking his father away. “I don’t want to,” said the crying boy.
“When I was at the show in [the town of ] Galanta, you were performing so well,” the father responded.
“No,” the son replied through tears and jumping from anger.
Jozef Bednár and his wife separated when the boy was four years old. He is convinced that his ex-wife has been manipulating his son into rejecting him. The mother told The Slovak Spectator that she could not speak a few weeks ago and has not responded to attempts to connect with her since then.
Bednár is one of the several fathers rejected by their children with whom The Slovak Spectator has been talking in recent months. After separating from their partners, they lost contact with their children, who subsequently became hostile towards them. Due to continuing lawsuits they lost their private life, savings, and one of them even ended up at the psychiatrist’s.
This is not a problem among a few families. In 2015 alone there were 9786 divorces with 9000 children affected. It is estimated that 15 percent of them were highly contentious divorces, according to Lucia Stano Šalátová, a social worker from the Hope Center civic organization, which works with such families. It means that the number of threatened children is increasing by 1350 per year.
Manipulation is often the reason why children start denying or even hating one of their parents. The process is even more serious if the child does not meet the other parent for long time, according to Sue Cornbluth, a US expert in helping families dealing with divorce.
“Sometimes they tell them that they don’t want to see them and they hate them, but it is just the result of their manipulation by the other parent,” Cornbluth told The Slovak Spectator. “Those are not their words. They just repeat what they’ve heard at home.”
Losing their children
When his two children were small, Zdeněk Ručka had a very good relationship with them. After he lost his job he even stayed with his older daughter for a few months on maternity leave. Today, his pleasant moments with his children are just memories.
“Even after all this time it's hard to talk about it,” Ručka told The Slovak Spectator. “It's incredible how they’ve changed.”
His ex-wife left him in 2008 when his son was five years old and his daughter eight. The court granted him the right to meet the children every other weekend and three weeks during the summer.
But it often happened that they were sick at that time, visiting the doctor, or had other reasons not to meet him. Once he was not able to be alone with them for six weeks due to such reasons. If he wanted to see them at least a short time, he had to come to his ex-wife’s flat for a visit.
In addition, his ex-wife was always calling their children when they were visiting their father’s home, telling them how she loved and missed them. The children were annoyed by that and had the feeling they shouldn’t spend time with their father so as to not hurt their mother, according to Ručka.
The children were increasingly less interested in meeting him after months of such a life and after a while they completely refused to visit Ručka.
"I am the father of children who were sending me replies to my dozens of emails and SMS’s like ‘We don’t need you, we don’t care about you, leave us alone,’” Ručka wrote on his blog, adding that mostly they did not reply at all.
On the other hand, there are also many cases when children prefer staying with a father who mocks their mother.
“Usually it happens in cases of wealthy men who tell their wives that they are free to go but the children have to stay,” said Stano Šalátová. “The children are in fact ‘bought’ by the father and exchange their mother for material benefits.
The second strategy of such fathers is to portray the mother as incompetent and immoral so the children lose respect for her, Stano Šalátová added.
False accusation leading to jail
The slowness of authorities also play into the hands of parents manipulating their children, according to former journalist and activist Laco Ďurkovič.
In the past he used to spend 40 percent of his time with his 11-year-old son, and two expert testimonies proved he had good relationship with him.
Ďurkovič has not met him since June 2016. His mother ceased bringing the child to the agreed meetings ordered by the court and she also filed several criminal complaints that proved to be unjustified.
With police and judges dealing with the case the relationship between father and son changed over that time and the boy began rejecting him. Even the courts admitted that they had acted slowly and apologised to him.
When Ďurkovič arrived to the mother’s apartment in October 2016 he did not even get through the front door. The son and his mother screamed through the window and sent him away. Ďurkovič asked his son why he was speaking to him like that and the son replied that he was speaking to him like a ‘tyrant’.
Ďurkovič recorded it and provided a copy to The Slovak Spectator.
Both Ďurkovič and Marian Rašla, a father with a similar problem, eventually suffered from one-sided psychological expert opinions created on the basis of their wives’ claims. Due to such opinions accepted by the courts, Ďurkovič was banned from seeing his son and Rašla lost the possibility of meeting his five year old daughter alone.
The court proceedings are still ongoing in both cases and both parents have seen how the behaviour of their children has changed. Rašla’s daughter, who is now at pre-school age, tells her father that she hates him and would kill him if she could.
One of the fathers we approached knows a lot about long proceedings. He wished to remain anonymous for the protection of his children but The Slovak Spectator knows his name.
This father’s wife, according to him, faked domestic violence by smashing glass at home and calling the police. He was temporarily jailed in 2006 but he ended up behind bars for about a year.
The accusations later turned out to be false, but the father has been forbidden from contacting his children since that time, which he considers to be beyond all understanding.
“Meanwhile, my daughter has grown up and I last saw her when she was eight years old,” he told The Slovak Spectator. “I don’t know what kind of people my children are.”
The Ministry of Justice does not see any problem in the speed of court proceedings. When asked whether it plans on making changes in the system, spokesman Peter Bubla did not respond and described the options damaged parents have.
Nor did Minister of Justice Lucia Žitňanská comment on the topic at a recent personal meeting with journalists.
They want a change
Unlike the Justice Ministry, the Research Institute for Child Psychology and Pathopsychology (VÚDPaP) under Education Ministry stated that the topic of highly contentious divorce is an urgent and serious issue.
The Institute proposes building a so-called Supervision Institute that would help assess domestic violence in disputes involving children.
The state should also further support organizations that help divorced parents and children to meet one another. If their relationship were to improve, the police, authorities and courts would not be so burdened by endless conflicts, according to Stano Šalátová.
She and Cornbluth advise rejected parents to not give in and try being in touch with children at least via phone or e-mail.
However, to avoid further trauma, parents should not call the police and file criminal complains in cases where they are prevented from meeting their children. Neither should they make videos of the meetings and show them to the public, according to Stano Šalátová.
“A rejected parent should retreat as if from a fight, but keep in touch,” Stano Šalátová says. “When they grow into adults, children will not criticise their parents for leaving them.”
26. Jul 2017 at 14:17 | Roman Cuprik