Over the next few weeks, we will be hearing the stories of those affected by unfair parental arrangements from the Family Court. These stories are from partners, children, and parents. Emotions are always high, and it is important to remember these represent just a few sides of a many-faceted issue. The purpose of these profiles is to showcase the reality of the problem and to give a platform for those whose stories would have otherwise gone unheard.
Liz* and Mark* have spent the last five years fighting for custody over Mark’s two young sons. His ex-wife, Fiona*, was found having an affair and they separated in 2011. What followed was a two-year-long court battle to finalise the divorce; whilst assets were split 60/40 in Fiona’s advantage, Mark now only sees his sons around 80 days in a year – approximately 22% of the time. The current court order was settled after the 2012 change in the law, which presumed equal parenting.
Liz and Mark have been married for two years, have stable jobs, and pay child support on time. They have an infant son together, but Liz fears her son will never have a relationship with his half-brothers. Having spent tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and mediation, they are ready to give up.
Every aspect of gaining responsibility for Mark’s children has been met with rebuttal. Even picking up and dropping off the boys required mediation and resulted in the couple having to travel to Fiona’s place half an hour away, should they wish to spend time with the children. “Over the years I have realised that she doesn’t want my husband,” Liz says, “but she doesn’t want him to be happy either.”
Allegations of abuse and drug use against Liz and Mark lead to the pair not being able to see the boys for six months. After these claims went unsubstantiated, Mark was entitled to just one day per week of visitation in a public space. Over time, Liz and Mark have fought to increase their contact with the boys to the current court-ordered agreement – every second weekend and half of school holidays. They said they have always pushed for 50/50 custody, but this has become more unlikely as time has passed.
Apart from having minimal contact hours, Mark’s relationship with his sons has continually suffered. Liz says, “The relationship has deteriorated substantially since [Fiona’s] current partner came about just over 12 months ago.” The two boys have been especially hostile to Liz, telling her they hated her then-unborn child. Liz and Mark believe the children have been brainwashed by their mother, which has led to parental alienation against their father and stepmother.
Their greatest worry is that their sons are in an unsafe environment. Liz believes the boys have been exposed to drugs and violence, with Fiona herself a victim at times One particularly bad bout of domestic violence led to Fiona miscarrying the child of the partner she is still with today. Liz and Mark have tried to contact child services but were unable to make progress. “His kids are exposed to horrible things and there’s not a damn thing that can be done about it,” Liz says.
The ongoing stress and struggle have taken its toll on the couple. “My husband suffers [severe] depression. At times he’s been suicidal.” Liz says, adding that Mark feels as if he’s lost his sons. “And he’s right. Visitation is merely a formality at this stage.” The couple receives counselling individually and together, but the hopelessness is still very much present. They have exhausted all avenues to be active parents for the two young boys.
“I have always supported my husband in his fight but there is no point anymore. I have no more comforting words; I have no more hope to give him.”
*names and details have been omitted to protect the identity of the people involved.