FAMILY LAW: by Warwick MarshNews Weekly
Labor/Greens to dump Howard's shared parenting laws
, October 29, 2011
I received a phone call a few weeks ago from a 30-year-old dad desperate to be reunited with his 11-month-old son.
I had already commenced trying to write my newsletter for the Fatherhood Foundation and really didn’t want to talk to him, but something about his reasoned manner on the phone caught my attention. We usually refer such callers to those better able to assist, such as Dads in Distress or Lone Fathers Association, but this time I thought that I should at least listen to his cry for help.
This man’s de facto girlfriend used to drink quite a bit and hit the drugs from time to time, but things took a turn for the worse when they had a baby together. Their relationship broke down in spite of many attempts at reconciliation.
The mother moved with the baby to another part of New South Wales and he stayed in Sydney. This broke his heart but he put up with it until he received a comment on Facebook from her: “I’ve taken pills and I won’t be around tomorrow. Come and grab your ****ing son.”
He immediately drove out to the country and took back his four-month-old baby boy. His son had bruises on his face and nose and rotting skin around his crotch area from not having had his nappy changed for some time.
As soon as this man returned to Sydney he called the police to report the mother’s abuse of the child. The police were shocked at the child’s condition and filed a report. They told him to go to hospital to report the situation to the medical authorities. As he was deeply concerned about his son’s well-being, he took the child to the hospital as directed.
At the hospital the doctors took X-rays of the baby and asked him to bring the baby back in four days’ time. The X-rays later revealed that his son had a fractured skull and fractured wrists. The mother had often threatened physical violence to the child, but this was far worse than he had first thought. The young father was asked to bring the baby back to the hospital.
At the hospital, his son was forcibly removed from his care by NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS) workers with police assistance and placed “in care”.
In the meantime his ex-partner had taken out an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) against him four days after he had collected his son from her. This AVO was thrown out of court.
She took out a second AVO against him, but after several months and considerable cost it was again shown to be false and thrown out of court.
While this father was struggling to prove his innocence, he was permitted to see his son only three times a week on supervised visits for one hour at a time. He told me how sometimes, when he left these one-hour supervised visits, he would pull over on the Sydney M5 motorway and sob uncontrollably, such was his grief at having his son removed from his care.
Although his son was no longer with the mother who had threatened to “smash his ****ing little face into the wall unless he stops crying”, who once boasted to a friend that she had dropped him as a four-month-old baby when she was drunk, his tears would often flow in those moments after visits.
This father told me that the authorities were forcing him to attend parenting classes to prove his credentials as a committed father. He paid for four of these classes himself. It was at one of these group courses, where there were 18 participants, who had all admitted to various levels of child abuse, he realised that their courses were being paid for by the government while he, whose sole “guilt” was trying to save his child, had to pay for his own.
The surreal nature of the situation overcame him and when he got up to speak to the group he broke down, fell on the floor and wept uncontrollably.
It was at this point in his story he began to weep over the phone and I found it hard not to follow suit. Lies are hard to manufacture, but tears are even harder, especially for a man.
Later that week he caught up with me for lunch and showed me the gruesome photos and the violent Facebook posts by the mother of his child. His story sounds like some surreal nightmare, but sadly it’s a real-life disaster unfolding in slow motion. Tragically, the Department of Community Services are recommending that the child should go back with the mother. They keep assuring him when he protests, “Everything we do is in the child’s best interests.”
I wish that such stories were rare, but unfortunately they are all too common. Tragically they are about to become more common from the next sitting of parliament. Then the full demonisation of the male of the species will become federal law.
The Gillard Labor Government’s Family Law Amendment Bill 2011 at first glance looks wonderfully plausible. Its supporters keep using the phrase, “in the child’s best interests”, but as usual the devil is in the detail. From the above story you can see the dysfunction already occurring with our current anti-male laws. The new laws will make things 10 times worse.
The new laws remove the post-divorce shared parenting reforms introduced by the Howard Coalition Government in 2006, and remove any possible penalty for lying before the Family Court of Australia. They also greatly expand the definition of family violence so that it could mean anything an aggrieved party might want it to mean.
This is of course an incitement to conflict and endless litigation for couples who are splitting up. The only people who will benefit from the new legislation will be the divorce lawyers who have suffered a 20 per cent drop in turnover since the introduction of shared parenting in 2006.
The big losers will be children because even more of them will be separated from their fathers on false allegations of abuse.
This will lead more men to commit suicide, and our nation cannot afford the loss of more men. Our male suicide rate is already appalling.
Warwick Marsh is the founder of Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation with his wife Alison. In 2001 Warwick received a Centenary Medal from the Governor-General for service in musical leadership for young people and the Aboriginal community and his international missions and aid work.