The pain of being an alternate-weekend father

I welcome the Federal Government’s inquiry into separating parents being given joint contact with both parents. Family Court orders that grant custody to one parent, when both parents are capable of providing the love and support for their children to develop to their full potential, need to cease being standard practice.
As a divorced father who rolled over during Family Court proceedings last year, I agreed to alternate weekend contact as demanded by my children’s mother. I had located private rental in a cheap flat close to the children’s home, which wasn’t the most desirable dwelling for children to spend more than a couple of days at. Thirteen months later, I was able to purchase a modest unit with the notion that my children could stay with me for more than a weekend. I discussed my proposal to have 50/50 shared custody with my ex-wife, who sought advice from a Community Legal Centre solicitor, but we were unable to arrive at an agreement.

I then suggested that the matter could be resolved at the Family Court. I was informed that I would be wasting my time as there needs to be a significant negative change in the circumstances for an order to be changed. I sought preliminary legal advice and was told that if I was prepared to spend up to $30,000 this may be able to be achieved. Needless to say, I, like many others in my position, do not have access to $30,000.

How do fathers gain equal access to their children? To be their dad, to be able to look into their faces and hear about their day, to help them with their homework, to cook and share regular meals with them, to kiss them goodnight and for them to know that they are secure with their dad? My children miss their dad and enjoy the weekends we spend together. But this is not nearly enough.
We must focus on the best interests of the child, recognising the fact that fathers should be seen as being equally important to the wellbeing of their children and that children have a fundamental human right to an equal relationship with their mother and father following divorce or separation.
Name and address withheld

There’s more than one way to be a dad

I am the father of two children. I am divorced. I am a lawyer. I have read the “expert” comments floated in the press about shared custody and its ramifications. After 25 years in the lawyer game, I have heaps of expert people to call upon in any case I present. All I have to choose is if I want a “yes” or a “no” person. And from what I see in the press, there is no shortage of experts.
Eight years ago I wanted a “week-about” shared arrangement with my children. My work situation was flexible. I was prepared to do whatever was necessary. I put forward my proposals to both my solicitor and my barrister, and was told I had a snowflake’s chance in the proverbial. After a lot of angst, I took their advice and backed off. And that was not easy for a person who had practised family law for 10 years.
The consent orders reflect that my children are with me four out of 10 days over the whole year. In the early days I took parental reading classes during the day at their primary school, just to be with them more. These days we have technology. Daily email, SMS via mobiles, plus we chat on MSN and talk over our respective days. That’s how my children and I maintain contact in between times. We are a very close “mono-nuclear” family unit.
So whatever the various “experts” might say, all I say to any father who may read this is that while the “system” remains unchanged, there are other ways you can demonstrate your love for and continue to be involved with your children.
Name and address withheld

Abusing the system

Your editorial (26/6) ignores the fundamental problem that besets the Family Court today. In a court where outcomes are pre-determined by pigeonhole, wily lawyers have worked hard to make their clients’ cases fit into the pigeonhole marked with the big bucks: intractable conflict between the parents with allegations of violence and/or child abuse by the husband. This means sole custody to the mother, a huge slice of the property and ongoing child support from the father. It is the desired outcome that manipulates the behaviour, and that is exactly where the system is failing our children at the moment.
Nobody in the system wants to believe that a mother could be so callous, but the evidence is clear.
After the reform of the Family Law Act in 1995, allegations of domestic violence and child abuse grew. Was there really a greater incidence of abuse? No – just a greater need to eliminate the father from the children’s lives.
If shared parenting gets the nod, expect a similar jump until it is declared an epidemic, and the status quo is restored.
Brian Taylor, Brentwood, WA

Poor Pru

It’s surprising that either parent would want to struggle for custody of their children given Pru Goward’s definition of parenthood (The Age, 25/6). She tells us men should become engaged in child care because they are half responsible for the nappies, wiping up after a sick child and the dreary hours spent on the floor playing with blocks. With this job description, are we surprised young people are eschewing the task of having children?
To have the work of parents diminished to such drudgery is an insult and far from the truth. Bringing up children goes way beyond their physical needs. We have experienced the difficulties, but also the joy and wonder of watching each life with its own personality, intellect and gift for creativity unfold under our care. And in the process, we have discovered more about ourselves.
It is a great loss for a person in Pru Goward’s position that she lacks an understanding of the vital and complex role parents play in shaping the future of our society. Were greater worth placed on the value of families in modelling the need for the give and take necessary to all relationships, the Family Court might not be so over-utilised.
Mandy Ellwood, Camberwell,
Felicity Zwalf, Ashwood