Family Court system of Australia is a social disaster
The devil is in the detail
In this account of my experience with the Family Court system in Australia, I have tried to keep to the point and be as brief as possible. Unfortunately, to give a clear picture of some of the many failures of the current system, it is necessary to describe incidents in detail. In my view, if one is not prepared to examine cases in detail, there is no point attempting to understand the problems.
Family Court - two years of anguish and escalation. Why not three months ?
After my separation and subsequent divorce, the Family Court process took two years to complete – two years of anguish which saw the relationship between myself and my ex-partner degenerate from a time when we would still hug each other, make jokes, and offer cups of tea, to one of bitter arguments and physical violence. I believe the Family Court system and Family Law industry is partly responsible for this escalation of conflict.
If nothing else, the length of a case in the Family Court is a major flaw of the system as it is bound to exacerbate the tensions and anguish. Why can’t a case be completed in three months or less ? Presumably this would be “in the child’s best interests.”
“My solicitor says I can get 70% and I want 70%”
In October 2002 I organised to meet with my ex-partner at the Dispute Resolution Centre. By my ex-partner's own account, she had contributed 45% of the assets (I maintained it was 24%). The mediators put it to her “So you would be happy with 45% ?” My ex-partner replied “No, my solicitor says I can get 70%, and I want 70%.”
This was the first of many examples of how the solicitor had managed to ‘up the ante’.
In the Family Court process there were three ‘conciliation conferences’. Solicitor for my ex-partner, Eddy Lago (Cairns), undermined chances for reconciliation at two of these three sessions. In the first session, my position was that my ex-partner had contributed 24% of the assets. Solicitor Eddy Lago, acting on behalf of my ex-partner, wanted 70%. In the spirit of negotiation I offered 35% (and was prepared to go to 50%). The solicitor facetiously responded “Ok, we want 90%” - thus swiftly and effectively ending any prospect of a negotiated settlement.
(Solicitor Eddy Lago asked me straight after that meeting what my bottom line was and I told him 50%).
My ex-partner ended up winning 68% of the assets at the Final Hearing, however 40% of this, it is estimated, was spent on the solicitor's and barrister's fees, implying that she received about 41% of the assets.
“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!)
Serving documents on the solicitor
As a self-representing litigant, I went to the offices of the solicitor for the mother, Eddy Lago, to serve papers and attain a signature in the box marked 'Solicitor's signature.' The receptionist notified the solicitor that I had documents to serve, then turned to me saying “He'll be right down”. I waited 30 minutes, then ducked outside to put more money in the parking metre. When I returned, I went upstairs to the office of Eddy Lago and informed the secretary outside his office that I just needed a signature and I’d be off. She informed Eddie Lago and then told me I had to wait downstairs. I told the secretary that I would wait outside his door until I received the necessary signature. The solicitor Eddy Lago came out and shouted at me to wait downstairs. I repeated that I only needed a signature and I’d be off, and until I received the signature I’d remain exactly where I was. The solicitor went back inside his office, then reappeared about 15 minutes later saying that he'd rung the police. I told him that I wasn’t concerned about the police – that I just needed the signature and I’d be gone.
I waited for another 15 minutes outside the office of Eddy Lago, meaning I had waited one hour in total. Eddie Lago then reappeared from his office. “Come downstairs with me” he said. I went with him downstairs where I expected he would sign the Proof of Delivery form in the box marked “Solicitor’s signature”. However, solicitor Eddie Lago told me once again that the police were just about to arrive and that I had no right to abuse his staff. I responded that I had not abused any of his staff members and just required a signature, (noting to myself that the police were taking their time in arriving).
Eddy Lago then informed me that he was not required to sign the box, and that the receptionist at the front desk could do it. I told him that a lot of trouble could have been avoided had he said this in the first place.
The solicitor went upstairs and I went to the receptionist at the front counter and asked if she could sign the Proof of Delivery “signature of Solicitor” box. The receptionist knew nothing of this and rang upstairs for solicitor Eddy Lago who returned to the foyer. The solicitor Eddy Lago, about 6'3" in height, then proceeded to stand over me and shout at me telling me to leave the premises, and that he owned these premises. I told him (again) in a calm voice that I just needed a signature and I would be gone. The Office Manager appeared and asked what was going on. I explained that I just needed a signature and asked if he was able to sign. He said no. I took his name as a witness of delivery and left. I believe the solicitor Eddy Lago was again deliberately trying to provoke me so that I would take at swing at him (or some other imprudent response), and use it against me.
The solicitor, Eddy Lago, wrote an Affidavit which he submitted to the Family Court for the Final Hearing. In it he falsely describes how I was abusive to his staff.
Solicitor Eddy Lago arranges a meeting
The solicitor Eddy Lago arranged a meeting between me, himself, and my ex-partner to get me to affirm claims by my ex-partner of bills she had paid during our relationship. We examined supermarket dockets and other minor expenses totalling about $400. The meeting ran for four hours and would have cost my ex-partner about $1000 in solicitor’s fees.
At the third conciliation conference in late 2003, I asked the Deputy Registrar why I was not able to see my son on weekends, especially since he has a half-sister who was at school during week days, (and who is absent during school holidays when she visited her mother), and since my ex-partner did not allow me to have my son for overnight contact. The Deputy Registrar put this question to my ex-partner. She responded “Because I work! and weekends is the only time I can see him.” Remembering something from a previous conciliation conference the Deputy Registrar asked her “But don't you also have Thursdays off?” My ex-partner replied “Yes, but that's when I have to do my shopping !” Irritated with her response, the Deputy Registrar slammed his book closed and turned to me saying “you should seek Interim Orders.”
This was the first I had heard of “Interim Orders”.
So I spent many many hours preparing an application for Interim Orders. When the matter was finally heard the judge ruled “Because the Final Hearing is imminent, we will not change the current pattern of contact.” The judge described the Final Hearing as ‘imminent’ even though he could not set a date. The Final Hearing occurred 12 months later.
Playing the DVO card
Having failed to get a DVO against me when my ex-partner attacked me the first time round, she succeeded in getting a DVO against me the second time, strategically just two weeks before the Final Hearing.
The incident occurred on Christmas Eve 2004 (my son was now 3yrs old). I had care of my son on Christmas Eve and I was scheduled to return my son to his mother at 6.30pm. In the afternoon I attended a Christmas party with my son (the first Christmas or New Year celebration with him since the separation in 2002). It was a big party and my son was having a lot of fun with his/our friends (big and small). There was lots of gourmet food, a dad dressed as Santa, a Christmas tree and lots of presents to open. At 8.15pm my ex-partner rang telling me I was late and demanded I return our son immediately. I told her I would be there in half an hour (ie 8.45pm), given that I would have to locate my son in the party, say goodbye to people and drive over there. At 8.30pm my ex-partner appeared, grabbed my son and began walking away. My first reaction was to walk the other way, but then I felt the need to say goodbye to my son, particularly as I was going away for two weeks.
I caught up with her and stood in front of her saying I wanted to hug my son goodbye. She attempted to go around me. I put my arms around my son to give him a hug. My ex-partner screamed for her boyfriend (6’ 3” – same height as the solicitor !) who came and grabbed me by the shirt ripping the sleeve. They walked toward the gate and I walked with them trying to talk to my son. The boyfriend said “You had better not hit me or I will take you to court.” I wasn’t threatening him in any way and thought his comment odd. I said “I am not going to hit you Gary though nothing would give me greater pleasure.” At that moment, (away from the party) he gave me a clip on the head (open palm). Surprised I said “you hit me you bastard !”. I went to give him a similar (open palm) clip on the head. He blocked it and punched me in the mouth. I retreated to the house and saw in the mirror that I had a bleeding lip.
I went away for two weeks. When I returned I was served with a summons to appear in court on a charge of Domestic Violence. No police officer had asked me what had happened. The matter had not been investigated before charges were laid. I understand this is standard practice.
I visited the Cairns Regional Domestic Violence Centre where Amanda, the executive officer there, having heard my account of the incident, advised me to “Accept the charges without admission of guilt”. She added “The charges have been brought by the Queensland Police. No one has ever won when the charges have been brought by the police.”
I was told by Amanda and others – “Don’t worry about DVO charges. They are very common and not necessarily regarded as serious.” But they should be regarded as serious shouldn’t they ? Was this just another ploy to get me to submit to and streamline a DVO production line prone to costly congestion ?
Another women’s activist argued “well [the DVO charges] stopped the violence didn’t they ?” This logic is disconcerting. If the ends justifies the means and who actually perpetrated the violence, or whether there was in fact any violence, doesn’t really matter, why not lay the DVO charges on just the women instead of just the men ? – or at least both parties…
Some weeks later I was in the court waiting room with four other men and a woman. The woman was the last to arrive. An advisor, presumably from a women’s support organisation, approached the woman and asked if she required assistance, which she did and they disappeared into another room. In the courtroom, my ex-partner also had an advisor. No such services were available to me or any of the other men.
I accepted the charges without admission of guilt. On hindsight I thoroughly regret this decision. I feel I was intimidated into doing so. I wrote the judge an eight page letter, to which she responded that I needed to approach my local MP as there was nothing she could do [about distinguishing false DVOs from legitimate ones].
How is it that I was charged with Domestic Violence because I was two hours late returning my son from a Christmas Eve party ? I had not hit anyone, I had not even threatened anyone or used abusive language (other than the mild instances described above) – yet I was hit and had my shirt ripped ? How is it that charges can be laid without even interviewing the accused beforehand ?
Final Hearing – father “inexperienced”
Justice Carmody comes across as reasonable and even-handed. He gave the impression that he made allowances for the fact that I was self-representing.
However, Justice Carmody made some bizarre statements and unreasonable judgments.
He stated that the I was inexperienced as a father ! - even though I had actively brought up a 14 year old daughter and currently had fulltime care, and, as was reflected in the Family Report, she is a positive, thriving, well-adjusted teenager. In fact, I had much more experience than the mother !
In the property settlement he took into consideration dubious evidence of shopping grocery bills paid by the mother, and a scrappy and barely legible notebook of supposed expenses. He did not tally the items where a major arithmetical mistake had been made, and accepted as evidence a bank deposit slip which had been filled in but which had not been stamped or separated from the butt. It was obvious my ex-partner was desperately trying to demonstrate that she had contributed as much as I had (changing her story in the process which was evident from previous statements) which she obviously hadn’t. He ignored completely that over $5,000 had been received by the mother in Family Tax Allowances to which both parents were entitled, and that this amount should be taken into consideration when calculating who had spent what. Because I hadn’t kept shopping grocery bills from four years prior, it was assumed I hadn't bought any !
The judge did not take into his calculations my ex-partner’s superannuation because it was concluded that “it would be a long time before she would benefit from it”. I wonder if the same sort of reasoning would have been followed had the superannuation belonged to the father.
Justice Carmody awarded 68% of assets to the mother even though she had contributed only 24%. He said “This is a global assessment and I am not required to, and will not provide a breakdown for this figure.” Not even a justification for this decision was given.
Allegations of sexual abuse
The Affidavits of the my ex-partner and her mother contained allegations (strong insinuations) of sexual abuse by me toward my son. The insinuated allegations are false. Having such false allegations made against you is extremely distressing.
In my case I was very lucky to be able to demonstrate they were false. I imagine in many other cases fathers are not so fortunate. This is not to say that real cases of child abuse do not occur (by both mothers and fathers). However, we just tend to ignore the problem of mothers making false allegations with impunity.
My ex-partner agreed, during my cross-examination of her, that her allegations were very serious. I then asked why she had not raised these serious matters during her interview with the Child Psychologist who was writing the Family Report. She replied that she didn’t have enough time. I held up a copy of the Family Report which showed that the interview had lasted 1hr 45 mins. I would have pressured her to admit that she had fabricated the allegations except I was concerned the judge might think I was bullying her as it was already plain to everybody by her blushing and body language etc that she had lied, and in fact committed perjury. When the maternal grandmother later, in a rambling incoherent response to a question, began talking about sticking pencils up the bottom, the judge, thankfully, demanded that she only speak to what was in her Affidavit.
The judge, however, made no comment to my ex-partner for having committed perjury – not even a slap on the wrist.
I must say here that I am grateful that the Child Psychologist, Marilyn Venus, (a committed feminist), had obviously not prompted my ex-partner during the Family Report interview, or asked leading questions such as “have you ever been concerned about the father’s behaviour toward the child ?” I imagine the Child Psychologist had read the Affidavits prior to the interview. It shows that there does exist some level of integrity sometimes.
At this point I should also say that staff at the office counter of the Family Court (Cairns) were always friendly, patient, and made an effort to be helpful.
“In the Child’s Best Interests”
Even though the mother works fulltime and is on call some nights and weekends, and even though the father was available to care for the child any time and all the time, and even though the child had a sibling at the father's home, it was deemed in the child's best interest to locate the child with the mother.
One of the justifications of the Family Court giving sole residency to mothers has been that the father is working full time and the mother is available to look after the child. Here we see the double standard of the Family Court and the bias against fathers in action.
“WHEN I STAND YOU SIT !”
During the Final Hearing I was not reacting quickly enough - that is immediately resuming my seat the moment the mother's barrister, Josephine Willis, stood up and interjected. After a couple of reminders, Josephine Willis turned to the me, and at a distance of approximately 50cm, shouted loudly in my face “WHEN I STAND YOU SIT ! YOU GOT THAT ?! WHEN I STAND YOU SIT !” I was speechless and I did not respond. Rather I later approached the barrister Josephine Willis and calmly explained that as I had never been in court before, much less self-represented, I would try to remember as best I could, but that I may forget again.
It was obvious that the behaviour of the barrister Josephine Willis was deliberately provocative, and was a form intimidation. It was like the provocative behaviour of the solicitor Eddy Lago. Justice Carmody witnessed this aggressive outburst but said nothing.
The truth is that it would not be unreasonable for a person to respond aggressively to such an outburst. Such provocative behaviour by solicitors and barristers (particularly toward self-representing litigants) should be condemned by the Court, rather than be accepted as a fair tactic.
Solicitor Eddy Lago was also present at the Final Hearing. During the barrister’s cross examination of me, he sat staring at me with a piercing look as if to say “how could you have done this ?” More psychological intimidation. Finally I remarked “What is this Eddy ? Is it a staring contest ?” He gave a half smile, turned his eyes away momentarily before resuming his piercing stare.
There were other examples of psychological intimidation which I will not go into here. Perhaps one should just shrug this off as courtroom theatrics? I say psychological intimidation is regarded as a form of Domestic Violence, and it should not be tolerated when solicitors and barristers do it also.
Awarding costs against the Respondent
Justice Carmody ordered the Respondent (ie me) to pay $5,000 towards the legal fees of the Applicant. This was despite the fact that:
1. I had made written offers for settlement and the mother had made none.
2. Residency orders were closer to what I had sought than what the mother had sought.
3. that generally Respondents do not have to pay legal fees of the Applicant.
Eddy Lago, solicitor for the Applicant had argued that I, the Respondent, had drawn things out so the two-day Final Hearing was longer than it needed to be. I pointed out that cross-examination of the father (me) by the mother's barrister was significantly longer than my cross-examination of the mother.
I rang up to find about the procedure for appealing against these costs. I was told that I would need transcripts of the Final Hearing which would cost me about $3,000 ! I was also told by the Family Court in Brisbane that a board of Family Court judges would hear the Appeal and that “Appeals are rarely successful because the judge’s decision is usually discretionary, and other judges do not like to overturn discretionary decisions.”
Sort it out yourself
In my Orders Sought I asked that pick-ups and drop-offs of the child be reciprocated - ie each parent do their own pick-ups such that drop-offs are eliminated. Justice Carmody didn't see this as a reasonable request and ordered that the father do all pick-ups and drop-offs.
I asked that the mother use the child's surname as described on his birth certificate (the father's surname) rather than changing it to her own, to avoid confusion as to which name our son would be listed under at school, with Medicare etc etc. Justice Carmody suggested that this was one issue that in the new spirit of cooperation, the father and mother could resolve amongst themselves. One year later this issue has not been resolved. Surely the Court is there to make decisions when no agreement can be reached by the parties.
An easy obvious fair general policy solution would be for boys to take the surname of their father and girls to take the surname of their mother.
“I expect by then you two will be able to sort things out yourselves”.
The Family Report was based on meetings of the Family Court Child Psychologist, Marilyn Venus, and the mother, and then the father. My 14yr old daughter was also required for an interview, though the child's maternal grandmother who was looking after my son most of the time while the mother was working, was not required to be interviewed.
The Child Psychologist sat in the corner of a small room observing and taking notes while my son and I 'interacted'. Similarly this took place with the mother. This is such an unnatural situation in which to ‘objectively’ observe ‘typical behaviour’ between a child and a parent, and yet so much hangs in the balance with this half hour 'observation'. One can easily walk along a plank located one metre above the ground, but suspend the same plank between two buildings 100m above the ground and the result is quite different.
Nevertheless, the interviews and observations went smoothly. In the Family Report, the Child Psychologist Marilyn Venus recommended a three stage increase in contact with the father. Marilyn Venus said to me following the release of the report “I didn't go all the way to Equal Residency because I felt I'd intervened enough, and I thought that by the time he [our son] goes to school, I expect you two will be able to sort things out for yourselves.” What a huge ill-founded assumption this was considering the mother was willing to fabricate sexual abuse allegations amongst other blatant untruths in her Affidavits to minimise my contact with my son.
It also puts all the onus on me to achieve reconciliation. Why ?
I asked the Child Psychologist why the Family Court granted Equal Residency in so few cases. She said “You have no idea of some of the fathers we have come through here.” “Are so many of them so terrible ?” I asked. “Oh no, most of them are very good fathers” she responded. “So why is Equal Residency granted in less than 5% of cases ?” I continued. The Family Court Child Psychologist, Marilyn Venus, did not respond. She looked at her notes, shuffled her papers and changed the subject.
The judgment of Justice Carmody
In his Contact Orders, Justice Carmody followed the recommendations of the Family Court Child Psychologist. He was only going to make orders until the beginning of 2007 which would have meant both the father (me) and the mother would be posturing for the next two years preparing for the next round in the Court. The judge had given me some excerpts from the Family Law Act to read during the lunch break. One part of the Act is a recommendation - when making orders, consider orders which minimise the need to return to Court. I pointed this out to the judge. Justice Carmody seemed irritated. However, in his Final Orders he put in a fourth contact stage beginning in 2007 and continuing indefinitely.
I pointed out to the judge that while stages one to three were progressively increasing contact, his stage four would reduce contact and that there was no apparent logic in this. Justice Carmody responded that when a child starts school, both parents have less time. I responded that even taking this into account, the child would have less percentage contact with the father. The judge replied irritably “well I'm not going to change it now !” Easy for him to dismiss but his sloppy decisions can have a major impact on our lives and relationships for the next decade or more.
We were handed a copy of the Orders for perusal. Eddy Lago, solicitor for the mother, approached the father after about five minutes saying, 'Well we're finished. Are you finished ? We should go back in.' He was obviously pressuring me to agree. However, I took my time reading over the Orders.
I noticed that the judge had deviated from the recommendations of the Child Psychologist by ordering pick up at 7.30pm rather than 7.30am. The judge, again irritable, remarked that that was just a 'typo.' 'Typo' it might have been, but had I not pointed it out at that moment it most likely would have become irrevocable.
Forget about Child Support
I believe one of the reasons my ex-partner wishes me to have minimal time with my son is simply as a punishment, an act of malice. I believe a further reason is that the more contact I have with my son, the less Child Support I am required to pay her. Worse, if we had Equal Residency, which I was seeking, my ex-partner may have to pay me Child Support (due to her higher income).
I do not wish to receive any Child Support from my ex-partner (unlike my ex-partner, who has complained I am not giving enough to her). I would like to sign a Parenting Agreement stating that if we had Equal Residency, neither of us would seek Child Support from the other. However, as my ex-partner knows, such a condition would not be recognised by the Family Court. So I have no way to guarantee my ex-partner that I would not claim Child Support (as she is currently doing), whereupon I would be able to remove one of the barriers to her agreeing to Equal Residency. This is another example of the counter–productive nature of Family Court policy.
My ex-partner was advised by her solicitor as early as October 2002 that she would most likely gain 70% of the assets if she went to Court. She won 68% of the assets. After an immense amount of time was spent by both parties producing documents demonstrating financial contributions to the relationship and including, for example, supermarket dockets from four years prior, and unstamped bank deposit slips, and after simply ignoring much of that documentation and giving an unjustified discretionary ‘global assessment’ it seems that the final outcome was in fact a virtual foregone conclusion. It appears that this was a Kangaroo Court.
Given that the mother was working fulltime and was on call some evenings and weekends while the father was available to look after the child fulltime if necessary; given that the father already had sole custody of the child’s half-sister, and given that the Child Psychologist had presented a three stage plan of increased contact with the father (to six days and four nights a fortnight) on the basis of a positive Family Report, it seems as though the judge reluctantly conceded the Child Psychologist’s recommendations.
Had I not had these exceptional circumstances in my favour I feel sure the judge would have ordered the standard second weekend contact, plus the cynical three hours contact after school one day a week which judges now add in the face of mounting evidence of the damage to children from being alienated from a parent (and despite the evidence that children respond better to block contact, not fragmented contact).
How can you split a week ?
To my constant amazement, I was asked by Family Court officials on a number of occasions – how did I think Equal Residency could work since my son was too young to be away from a parent (read ‘mother’) for a whole week. And how can you divide a week in half ? (there being an odd number of days in a week).
Well couples do this all the time, the most obvious plan being that you alternate four days (father) and three days (mother), and then three days (father) and four (mother).
You are left with the feeling that the culture of the Family Court is unimaginative, devoid of lateral thinking, and with an inability to think outside the square.
Do you actually believe the Family Court amplifies conflict?
During the Final Hearing I argued that it would be better to have Final Orders that could give finality to the Family Court process rather than orders which would require us, the parents, to return to the Court two years later, because the adversarial Family Court process amplifies conflict, and we need to resolve conflict. Justice Carmody was unable to fathom this argument. “Do you mean to say that if two people come to the Family Court and there is no conflict between them then the court will create conflict ?” he asked. I responded “If two people come to the Family Court it usually means that there is already conflict between them. But the way the Family Court operates means that solicitors will search for ammunition, and that there will be more accusations and counter-accusations as a result”. It seemed he just could not comprehend what was blatantly obvious to me from my own experience of the Family Court system. It is structured in ways which amplify and generate conflict.
This obvious fact is extremely serious because one of the most important factors in a child’s life is some sort of reconciliation, forgiveness, cooperation and harmony between the separated parents to heal the huge rift of divided loyalties and love the child has for both parents. The dynamics of the Family Court system together with the Family Law Industry tend to amplify conflict and can produce resentment meaning there is never any sort of reconciliation between the parents leaving many children emotionally scarred for life.
The new Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) are an admission and recognition that the current adversarial system is fundamentally flawed. But the FRCs will not work because the Family Court’s quirky policies and gender-biased laws have not changed.
It has been said that men often have trouble letting go of issues after divorce, and they harbour resentment for years even to the point of obsession, unable to move on. My detailed account above could be interpreted in this light.
I therefore hasten to assure the reader that though I am extremely disappointed with the Family Court system and the Family Law industry, and though I have become a committed activist as a result of my experience (which I know is not nearly as unjust and outrageous as other cases I have come to learn about), I have indeed moved on. I am very happy with my life, and I have a relatively positive engagement with my ex-partner with regards to our son, (who thankfully has been protected from much of the pain of the separation and anguish of the Family Court process).
In the same way that any political activist must fight for justice and a more enlightened system - for years if not decades, I too must keep arguing my case along with thousands of other activists here in Australia. So please consider this before reducing and relegating my account to some negative male stereotype.