Fathers separated from their family are being prevented by the mother from seeing their children despite court orders saying it must happen.
Fathers separated from their family are being prevented by the mother from seeing their children despite court orders saying it must happen.

Fathers cut off from kids

THE relationship is dead. Mummy's going her way and Daddy his.

But what about the children?

There are many ways of dealing with custody and access after separation.

In the best scenarios, caring parents will acknowledge that children love both of them and will be saddened by the loss of either.

The courts support that.

Phil Theobald of Hobart is a barrister who frequently appears for Northern Rivers clients at the Lismore Family Court.

He says courts have a baseline commitment to children spending time with both parents unless there is a serious reason why a parent should not have contact.

But some parents will withhold children from their partner, even refusing to obey court orders.

They may also make serious allegations against the partner which authorities, such as the Department of Family Services or the police, must investigate.

The Northern Star spoke to two men whose hearts have been torn by separation from their pre-school-age children.

We have changed all names.

Peter is in his early 40s and lives on the same community as his ex-wife Martha, a migrant. He now believes she may have married him only to get residency.

Peter was overjoyed at the birth of their daughter Sadie three years ago and was happy to take a huge part in her care.

But the marriage went pear-shaped when Peter, Martha and her mother took Sadie to visit Martha's relatives in the land of her birth.

Peter went, expecting to stay a few weeks, but as weeks dragged into months and the women showed no sign of returning, he returned to his life here.

"At last they returned to tell me the marriage was over and Sadie would live with her mother and grandmother in another house on the community.

"We had counselling and it was agreed Sadie could come to me for three days and a sleep-over a week," he said.

"I got a letter from Martha's solicitor saying allegations had been made that Sadie had been abused while in my care, which meant I would have no access at all.

"I went to Family Services. They wouldn't tell me what the exact allegations were but said it would take 28 days to investigate."

Living close to where his daughter now stays and not having seen her for six weeks, Peter recently saw her playing in front of her mother's house as he was driving home.

He waved and called out to her that he loved her.

Martha took out an AVO against him, preventing him coming within 100m of her house or "stalking or harassing" the child.

Despite being cleared of the allegations of abuse, Peter still has no access and lives in fear of her mother disappearing with her.

Steve, in his late 30s, knew his relationship was on the rocks.

He returned home from work one night to find his partner Dianne had disappeared with their children, aged four and 18 months.

He got a letter from her solicitor saying that only if he agreed to move out of their rented house and accepted he could only see his children for a limited time each week, would he see them at all.

Then he was accused of cannabis use and domestic violence.

To prove he was drug-free he underwent three months of random drug tests and all proved he was not using cannabis. His ex had no evidence to support her domestic violence allegations, which were quashed.

Court orders were issued allowing him to see his older child for two nights a week and brief un-supervised visits with his 18-month-old three times a week.

The younger child is not allowed to sleep-over at his house.

"It surprises me that a child under two is deemed too young to stay over with her father, even though the mother might go out to work and leave that child in day care," he said.

He still has not won the right to be with his children on their birthdays or at Christmas.

"Sometimes when the mother comes, the baby is sleeping, but because my allotted time is up the mother insists I wake her and make her ready to go," he said.

"Consequently she frequently leaves my place screaming that she wants to stay with me.

"The mother was unable to manage two children without my cooking, cleaning, shopping and laundry when we were together.

"I was happy to be a stay-at-home dad. I have no idea how she's managing without my input."

Mr Theobald said the only recourse these men have to extend the time with their children is through the court.