“We were just about to send out a car to pick you up”
In June 2003 I went to pick up my toddler son on my day of contact (informal agreement made in the Family Court). My ex-partner said she wanted me to come an hour later in future. I agreed saying I would return our son an hour later. My ex-partner replied that our son must return at the regular time. My ex-partner was unilaterally changing the amount of time I would spend with my son. Even so, I suggested as a compromise - ok how about half an hour later ? My ex-partner began yelling at me – “No I can't trust you, you’re not having him” and attempted to take him from my arms. I said “No, it is my day to have him” and I turned and began walking to my van about six metres away. My ex-partner began pulling at my shirt and scratching my arms. I fended her off using my palm on her forehead, but she persisted. She was between me and my van. I gave my ex-partner a single barefoot kick to the shins. My ex-partner jumped back and yelled that she was going to take out a restraining order against me.
At home, still shaking from the incident, I rang the Domestic Violence Hotline. They advised me to make a report at the local police station. When I arrived the police officer said to me “Good thing you came in because we were just about to send out a car to pick you up.”
I felt like I was the perpetrator of the violence though I knew I wasn’t. The main difference in our stories was that she said that I kicked her in the groin (rather than the shin) and she fell to the ground. Naturally, she had no grazes or any marks as her version was untrue. On the otherhand, I had significant bloody scratch marks on both my upper arms.
At this point I should have taken out a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) against my ex-partner. However, I was unfamiliar with what a DVO was. Secondly, I was being made to feel like the guilty party. Thirdly, in retrospect, taking out a DVO against my ex-partner would have worked in her favour because, as I was told in the second ‘conciliation conference’ – any signs of conflict between the parents means that Equal Residency cannot be granted.
This is one of the many ludicrous aspects of Family Court policy. This policy gives an incentive for the mother to create conflict. And it happens !
The police officer never asked me if I would like to take out a DVO against my ex-partner. He suggested instead we all have a meeting, which we did. Asked why she attacked me, my ex-partner said that I was running on wet grass with our son in my arms and that she was afraid I would slip over with him. The police officer concluded from this that I must have been running up the street (which my ex-partner agreed I was not doing). He said the story didn’t make sense because I was only a few metres from the van and there would have been no space in which to run. He said there were no grounds for a DVO to be taken out against me.
At that meeting I asked my ex-partner to detail the agreement of shared care we had reached at the Family Court a couple of weeks previously. The police officer noted it down. When my ex-partner unilaterally reduced access from three days a week to two the following week, I rang the police officer. He told me to see my solicitor as there was nothing he could do about it.
Here is another ludicrous policy of the Family Court: Residency is often based on precedent – Who has been caring for the child mostly up to this point? My ex-partner would likely have been briefed on this by her solicitor. It is likely my ex-partner was reducing my access in order to achieve a better outcome in the Final Hearing. I could have kept my son for an extra day while he was in my care but this would have created huge conflict and my son would have suffered. Residency outcomes should not be based on precedent as this policy is geared to cause conflict.
“He said it with a smile on his face”
At the second “conciliation conference”, I presented a written account of the incident where my ex-partner attempted to snatch our son from my arms and deeply scratched my upper arms, as I knew the incident would be raised.
I had no solicitor as I had decided to represent myself. *
The Deputy Registrar, Gilbert Victoire, criticised me for producing this account of events. Why ? - I do not understand to this day. He criticised me for other things such as taking my son to the police station. (As it turned out, had I not taken him to the police station he would have been with me anyway when the police car arrived to arrest me on the strength of my ex-partner’s complaint lodged by telephone…)
I believe the agenda of the Deputy Registrar was to minimise the number of cases that go to Final Hearing and that his strategy was to lean on and intimidate the weakest party. Since my ex-partner had her solicitor with her, he decided to lean on (read ‘bully’) me.
I also produced a letter from a former partner (14 years together) who stated that in all that time, I had never hit her, nor even pushed her - ie I had never been violent in any way. Eddy Lago, solicitor for the mother then said to me “How did you get that out of her ? Did you beat her up as well ?” Speechless, I turned to the Deputy Registrar, Gilbert Victoire, to see if he was going to respond to this blatant provocation. The Deputy Registrar Gilbert Victoire turned to me saying “He said it with a smile on his face” as if somehow that made it all quite acceptable.
The presumption that if there has been any violence, the male must have been the perpetrator and the female the victim, is all too prevalent in our society and it is very frustrating if you have taken care to avoid violence (the single barefoot kick to the shins was the only act of violence – though in self defence – in two relationships spanning 20 years), yet you have been the target of violence by female partners (including deep scratches, and slaps and punches to the face).
* My previous Legal Aid solicitor, Wendy Lehmann, in the first conciliation conference gathered around an office table, seemed more intent on pressuring me into submission than advocating on my behalf. (Some months later I overheard her complaining to a colleague about having to take on Legal Aid work). Solicitor Wendy Lehmann would not put forward my offer to the other party, merely present me with their position. When I put my offer forward myself to get a process of negotiation and compromise going, I was told I was out of order – only the solicitor could speak!)