WHEN Alana Fisher was four-years-old her parents separated and the family courts made key decisions about her life including how often she could see her father. Although the Belfast woman, who is now 25 and lives in London, did not attend court she says the adversarial nature of proceedings directly impacted on her young life.
My Mum was granted residence and my Dad had weekly access each Saturday between 12pm and 6pm.
I had a very close relationship with my Dad, as well as my Mum, but I feel like we both missed out on a lot of things. You can't really pack your childhood into six hours, one day a week.
As I progressed through primary school and other kids were making arrangements to go swimming or see each other over the weekend I was always thinking: ‘That's my time with my Dad’ and I didn't want to give that up.
I used to run skipping out to the car. I was so delighted to see him, and then one week I suddenly just stopped. I went to do it as usual, and sort of stopped dead in my tracks to look back at my Mum and then continued on a slower basis out to the car. I do remember those feelings of guilt.
I can remember [on Saturday] feeling panic if I felt that we weren't going to make it home in time. It's not something that a five, six or seven-year-old should feel.
I can recall the sadness and while I don't feel it any more I can remember those emotions. I see that child as a different person who mentally I have had to go back and comfort in some way to be able to come to where I am now.
Through teenage, adolescent years - when you have a lot of other things going on – then the impact of it all really hit me. And that was hard to deal with through those years.
I remember feeling a lot of anger and resentment, and I know that they are emotions that teenagers feel any way. I think maybe it was my late teens when all that anger and resentment passed I was able to communicate better with my Mum about the emotions that I went through.
I know how hurtful I was to her at the time. To my mind it was basically ‘I never asked for any of this’ as hard as it is to say, it was kind of: ‘You made this situation, so you deal with it’.
Relationships breaking down are probably one of the hardest things to go through in life and to have children added into that is messy. But it is a matter of the parents finding a way of setting aside the emotions whether they're hurt, anger, and heartbreak - whatever they're feeling towards each other. They have a responsibility to make that transition from living together as that family unit to living apart as easy on that child as they possibly can.
In my experience it's more damaging to bring court proceedings into play - I understand that there are certain cases where it may be unavoidable.
I don't think the legal system is set up to take on board the emotional impact of children. It's all very logistical and pragmatic; whereas I think when it comes to a child's life it's not about logistics. It's about relationships and that needs to be the focus for those parents.
The child's voice is being lost in the system. I know I'm now an adult, but I was a child going through that.