I ALWAYS dreamed of building a family of my own. Figuring out I was gay made it harder, but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying. Somehow I was going to father a child and be a parent.
I found myself a partner and eventually we bought a house. But after five happy years, I started to feel time was running out for me to become a parent. We needed to make a move.
So my partner and I decided to look for a woman with a stable life who might be interested in a co-parenting arrangement. A woman who would have a child with us, where we shared all parenting decisions, and our child lived in both our households.
It was a search that took years. We eventually met and formed a friendship with a woman who told us that a co-parenting arrangement was what she wanted. Even better, she was a lesbian in a seemingly stable longterm relationship, and she lived nearby.
We got to know each other very well, and became good friends. We talked, and researched, and talked some more. We invited them to our family events, and we attended theirs. We went on holidays together.
We eventually agreed on parenting arrangements for a future child, and wrote it all down, thinking we were building a solid family for our future child, based on shared values, and the needs of our child. We believed what we were being told.
With hindsight, this was undoubtedly the point at which the whole thing fucked up. Of course, I only realised this many years later.
The birth of our son was a life-changing moment for all four parents, not just the birth mother. The joy and emotional rollercoaster of caring for your own child is incredibly intense, and your worldview narrows to focus on the child. The time I spent looking after my son in his first few weeks are some of my happiest memories.
So, in the midst of that happiness, it came as a complete surprise when our son’s birth mother started disrupting our son’s time with us and our extended family. At the time, we simply adapted, and fit in with the new circumstances. We thought talking it through and being flexible would make things work. Several months later when we still obviously hadn’t figured out the hints, his mother tried to cut us off completely.
Inevitably, we found ourselves in the Family Court process, and have been there ever since.
Looking at the court process from the inside, it is full of arcane bureaucracy, a place where right and wrong are not the issue. It isn’t slow and expensive. It is glacial and ruinous.
The court has a mandate to put the interests of the child first. But in practice, that seems to mean whatever the person making the decision wants it to mean.
You need a solicitor that specialises in Family Court matters, and there are very few who are truly competent when it comes to any case involving gay or lesbian parents.
The process can easily involve years of delays before you get to your “final hearing”. Before that even happens, you need to go through mediation and long sessions with family consultants that analyse your relationships with your partner and your child.
Everything seems designed to slow down progress, and nudge you into a mutually-agreed settlement. If you can’t afford $100,000 in legal costs, then you are probably going to run out of money long before you get to the end of your final hearing.
The stress and financial pain of going through years of court battles is extraordinary. I can’t count the number of sleepless nights I have had, tossing and turning with a feeling of gut wrenching helplessness. Many fathers seeking time with their children simply give up. Giving up usually means being cut off from your children.
From a legal perspective, I think it is clear that the deck is well and truly stacked against you if you are a gay man. Facts seem to matter very little, and the only winners are the lawyers. When our legal team attend court, they need a large luggage trolley to carry the dozens of folders of material for our case.
If our son had been conceived during heterosexual sex with his lesbian mother in exactly the same co-parenting circumstances, our case would undoubtedly have been completed years ago at a tiny fraction of the legal bill, with our child spending reasonable time in both households based on his needs. Because our son has a gay father and was by necessity conceived via an IVF procedure, he has been treated very differently by the court.
Out of the people I have met who have gone ahead with co-parenting arrangements, very few fathers actually get to spend the time they expected, or want, with their kids. Sadly, many do not have the documentary evidence or money to fight for their child’s rights before the court.
I do not plan on giving up. We love our son, and he loves all of his parents and family spanning the two households.
I think it is clear that the laws in this area need to be rebalanced to take into account the special needs of children with LGBTI parents, and the complex family circumstances that often occur within our community. The injustices that are baked into the current system are too great to ignore, and lead almost inevitably to unresolvable LGBTI family disputes that spend years in the courts.
* This name is a pseudonym to protect the identity of the author due to an ongoing legal case.
**This story was first published in the June edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.