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Questions from a concerned father.

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Hello, I am writing this to try and get some advice on my current situation.

I am the primary caregiver for my 2 1/2 year old son, with around 55 - 59% care time. We have agreed informally to 50/50, however my ex's work and leisure commitments mean that she does not care for him on all of her scheduled days (before anyone interjects with 'change the schedule' it is currently based around her bar work schedule, and I mostly offer her days to make up the status quo).

My ex has just informed me that in 3 weeks she is going to be moving in with her new partner, who I have reasonably justifiable concerns about having my son live with. My family is telling me I should get a lawyer, as they (and I for the moment) do not feel totally comfortable about my sons welfare living there a few days a week. The only interactions with the new partner I've had were seeing him at work as a bouncer, being aggressive and violent. I also have heard many stories about this violence being excessive (from mutual friends).

However, I do realise that anecdotal evidence and personal opinions (he has full facial tattoos and demon skull pendants in his car) are not anything that would mean that he is unfit to live with. We have even negotiated that I get to know him better when my ex said she wanted to add him to the list of agreed carers (and was supposed to go on a meet and greet in a few weeks), and then we could discuss adding him to the care list.

I should expand on this point when we first separated my wife demanded that we come up with a list of people we could have watch our son when we were unable. After negotiation (including in our first FDR session) the list was some members of my family (her family is in the US, and she has a slightly tense relationship with them; oh and I had to negotiate hard to get my 2 sisters and brother on the list because they dont get along with her anymore), our sons godfather, and some of her friends (none of mine got through except our mutual friend who is the godfather (not in a Mafioso way)). This has not been a problem for me, as I have only twice got a secondary carer to watch him - and the amount of negotiating (and arguing when he wasn't around) means that I would prefer to stick to her list, as it is less trouble in the long run.

I should also add that when I unexpectedly had to find a place to live (originally the separation was temporary, so she could work out her feelings about being a parent and a spouse - we were only married a couple of years (funnily enough a couple of months more than for her to get PR… but I digress), and our son was a pleasant surprise) she also came up with a list of people I could live with if I wanted to continue to share custody of our son (well actually a list of people I couldn't live with, which meant that living by myself was the only option). She is now ignoring these agreements and doing what is most convenient for her.

Anyway, my understanding of the law from searching websites and forums such as this is that I just have to suck it up and accept that our son will be moving in with him as well, and as our agreements are not legally binding she is able to use him as a carer; that getting a lawyer will just introduce significant financial stress to the situation (my income for this year is likely to be around $24K, as I was primary caregiver even before the separation).

If this is correct, can anyone give me advice on asking if it is ok to see where my son will be staying to see that it is child friendly? Is it ok to ask that the house is made more toddler friendly? Is it ok for her to use other carers if I am available (I dont want it to be 50% me, 35% her, 15% him care arrangement if possible)?

I know a lot of this is just separation/divorce anxiety, but I want our son to continue to be in a nurturing, non violent environment, and for his exposure to unsuitable material and behaviour to be minimised.

Also, our second FDR session broke down (we had been quite successful in negotiating a parenting plan up until she asked to change things that she had suggested be on there in the first place - and I stopped backing down (I was upset)), but we seem to be negotiating our way back to a workable parenting plan very slowly. Should I continue with this - or is it worthwhile trying to get a court order in place before she decides to change any of our other 'agreements.' I am particularly worried that if her new relationship breaks down she may try to relocate to the US (and reading the mixed bag of courts deciding whether this was in the child's best interest have me worried… I have made my life all about my son, and am not interested in becoming a long distance father).
From what you have written it sounds like the mother is not too fussed if you have majority care. In her new relationship you might find that caring for your son might become a burden so you might end up with more care. She will want to go out with the boyfriend etc… so you should offer to care for your son to allow them to go out etc…
If she is chasing the Family Benefits then I guess she wont be too negotiable. The new boy friend could also become your replacement. I guess you will know in time.
By what you say AlexIsWorried it would seem that although not always running completely smoothly of late (gotto expect some turmoil sometimes you are separated after all and even intact parents don't always agree), that you and your ex have usually been able to work arrangements out for your son through mediation…which is actually a really good thing, so well done!! 

In relation to your question about getting a Court Order in place.  Agreements reached through mediation can be made into Court Orders provided you have the consent of both parties.  Much easier and less conflictual than litigation. 

In relation to your thoughts about your ex's partner I would say (if feasible) having a social meeting or 2 with him in the absence of your ex and his occupation would be a really good idea as it might bring you some comfort when at some stage (which I would imagine would be inevitable given he is your ex's partner) that your son is left in his care.  On the alternate if the meetings validate your current feelings of unease with the new partner then you might at least have more to base these doubts on rather than the current speculation.   

Lastly, family can be fantastic support and I would encourage any person to make use of that support but at the end of the day whatever decision you make about lawyers etc needs to come from you. 

"Never, "for the sake of peace and quiet," deny your own experience or convictions". Dag Hammarskjold
I needed help with my case and couldn't afford a lawyer and found these guys invaluable  srl-resources.org
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