Michael B is one of a small number of Australian fathers who has a 50-50 shared parenting arrangement with his six-year-old son after divorce.
It did not come easy.
“I had to fight for every bit of time we spend together,” Mr B said yesterday.
“I had to pay a lawyer $400 an hour. In all, it cost $10,000. But if I hadn’t fought, I would have ended up with one weekend a fortnight, and I was so close to my son I couldn’t let that happen.”
Mr B, who cannot be identified because his son is subject to Family Court orders, said he met his former wife in a South American country while he was working as an engineer there and earning good money.
“She was from the slums,” he said. “She had nothing, but that didn’t matter to me.”
Before long, she was pregnant. The couple’s son was born abroad.
“I brought her back to Australia when he was six months old, and we went through the whole thing of getting her a visa,” Mr B said.
“For the first year we lived with my parents, my boy’s grandparents, in their luxury home.
“Then we got our own place. I had by then assets of nearly a million dollars, and then when my boy was nearly three years old I came home, and the place was empty.
“She’d gone, and taken him with her, and there was a lawyer’s letter on the table saying she can’t live with me any more, and she’s the primary carer, so she’s taken my son.”
Mr B believes he was a good husband and father, and that his relationship with his son was strong, loving and important.
He said his ex-wife during their marriage had taken up Latin American dancing, and was tutoring and dancing at a salsa school three nights a week, “so I was working full-time and coming home at night and caring for our son, while she was dancing”.
He said she also took English lessons and a TAFE course, during which time their son was in childcare. “I couldn’t believe that her lawyer was saying that I wasn’t an equal parent,” he said.
“I believe I did all the right things.”
Mr B said he was accused in court of being “a bad husband, a bad father” and he believes that were it not for the Howard government’s shared parenting laws, which require the Family Court to presume that a child’s best interests are served by having a “meaningful” relationship with both parents after separation, he would not have been given any responsibility for his son, let alone equal time.
“He (the boy) spends Monday and Tuesday with his mum, and Wednesdays and Thursdays with me, and weekends we swap,” Mr B said. “We’re incredibly close and it has got to the point where I can communicate with (his ex) about him in a good way.
“When I think that we could go back to the old days, where fathers just got screwed, the more I can’t believe it.”
The Australian was not able to reach Mr B’s former wife for comment.
By Caroline Overington