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  • Not a day goes by
  • By Muriel Reddy
  • The Age
  • 21/12/2003
  • Contributed by: admin ( 74 articles in 2003 )
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'Not a day goes by when I don't think about them'

It will be in the quiet afterglow of a Christmas Day well spent with his wife and two young daughters that Alan Harrison's thoughts will turn to the two sons he gets to see only from a distance. Even in his new-found happiness - his second chance, as some describe it - he can never escape that gnawing feeling that somehow his family is incomplete. His heart is full, yet somehow empty.
His young sons live only kilometres away, but it is really a world away in terms of closeness. Just as in Christmases past, Alan has written each boy a letter, telling them that he is thinking of them, that he loves them and that he is proud of their achievements in school.

Although he may not be a part of their lives, he keeps himself informed of their developments in school, going to sports days and concerts. At last week's Christmas carols at school, he watched as one of his boys handed out the programs.

The thorny question of child custody will be an issue for national discussion when the House of Representatives family and community affairs committee releases on December 29 the report of its six months' inquiry into child custody arrangements with family separation. For parents such as Alan, it may already be too late to change a system that he blames for the loss of his sons.

Alan had been with the boys' mother for nearly 15 years when the marriage started to crack. "Everything was fine until the solicitors got involved and that was just the worse thing that happened," he recalls.

Alan says that almost overnight his access to his sons became an issue. He rode an emotional roller-coaster. He claims that he was advised by a psychologist to give some space to his ex-wife and his sons to allow them to heal after the trauma of the divorce. It was the worst advice he has followed.

"The Family Court doesn't allow for that," he explains. "Three years ago, I went to see a solicitor and I was told that it would cost me $21,000 to go to the court and seek access to my boys. There is no way I could afford that."

For now, Alan has to content himself with following the lives of the sons he has lost through their school reports and school photos. He writes to them regularly, but the letters are usually returned.

"Of course I get upset about it, but you just have to live with it," he says. "Not a day goes by when I don't think about them. It is always so much more difficult on occasions like Christmas."

Six years have passed since Alan last spent time with his sons and he survives on the hope that one day they will come to him to ask him what happened, to know why he was not a part of their lives.

His experience has encouraged him to support others. He is involved in the Australian Family Support Services Association, which offers advice on what will happen after divorce and on strategies to minimise the effects of marriage breakdown.

The website for the association is www.afssa.org.au

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