'I'm not a dead-beat dad, but the courts would try and make you believe that I am'
Dion Correia hasn’t seen his two daughters from his first marriage since 2003.His “angels” Brooke and Rien, now 15 and 17 respectively, who live with their mother in the US, likely feel deserted by him.But he is the one that feels the “hurt and pain” after his divorce left him with limited access to his “beautiful girls”.Mr Correia said things with his ex-wife in California weren’t going right in 1997 and after their split he decided to come back to Bermuda to sort himself out.“I had to get divorced in California because that is the jurisdiction we got married in,” he said. “My (ex-wife) was able to put papers in and it was hard for me to put the paperwork in from Bermuda.“I had decided to try and send her a certain amount of money every few weeks until things got better and I found a better job. It just got to that point where she was telling me if I do not pay more money I do not get to see my kids.“So basically what I decided should happen was we should take it to the courts.”The 39-year-old said the California court system tried to paint him as a “dead-beat dad” and he walked away with visitation rights and owing monthly child support payments, while his wife got sole custody.He was ordered to pay $1,300 a month, despite only making around $300 a week as a salesperson at the former department store Triminghams.“There was no way I was going to afford to pay for electricity and bills and put money aside for the child support,” he said, adding that he got a second job to try and make the payments.The courts later agreed to a lesser settlement, but he said: “Since then it has been touch and go. I haven’t seen my kids in eight years.”There was one point where he wasn’t going to pay any child support and risk going to prison.He said he felt the court perceived it “better for me to pay the money than be a father to my children”.Despite the legal woes, Mr Correia admits he wants to be in his children’s lives, but the long distance and relationship with his ex-wife has made that a challenge.“The last time I had my children they were on vacation for a month in 2003, which I paid for them to be here at that time.“I feel like s**t and it’s frustrating that I have these two beautiful girls that mean the world to me, but when your hands are tied what can you do?“I do not feel good about the whole situation at all. The worst part is my wife has kept me away.”He said the girls’ grandparents didn’t even speak or hear from them and added: “It is sad when my whole family’s cut out.”Mr Correia believes the legal system should make better assessments on the men who want to be a part of their children’s lives.He also said better judgements need to be made in cases of local fathers dealing with overseas ex-wives or mothers who have taken children from their fathers.“My only regret in life at this point is that I let them slip away,” he said. “I’m not a dead-beat dad, but the courts would try and make you believe that I am a dead-beat dad.“That hurts. It hurts because as a father you want to provide, you want to be the strength.”The self-employed graphic designer admits he doesn’t have the money to shower the girls with gifts.But he said he would jump at the chance to spend quality time with them, adding: “I love them. I always have and always will.”