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  • Patrick - Guest or Intruder? ( Part 2/3 )
  • By Kate Legge
  • The Weekend Australian Magazine
    Page 2 of 3
  • 07/12/2002 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 30 articles in 2002 )
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Continued from Page 1

"He told me he had spent all of that weekend going through his thoughts," says Udorovic," and I thought he needed a little reassurance that went beyond the level of support you might get from your colleagues, because he was the judge who had made the decision and there would always be, I felt, questions that anybody who made the decision would ask themselves, that might [lead them to] doubt themselves, doubt the decision, doubt their function, perhaps.

"I thought that he would have known in his heart that what he did was the right thing to do, emotionally, legally, in every sense, so I don't think he would have been haunted by that . I think the doubts would have been rather along the lines of was there anything in any of the evidence, whether it came from the three psychiatrists or from the psychologists who gave evidence, that could have raised in his, that is, the court's mind, any possibility that such an event could occur," Udorovic adds.

Threats were made in affidavits to the court. Threats are always made. Talk of suicide and madness gets tossed around when so much emotion rides on the outcome. In his judgment, Guest carefully recited the mother's evidence and that of the expert witnesses regarding the effect that contact between the father and Patrick might have upon her. She sounded the siren in court that "her concern was that the `...stress would be enormous and I would go crazy'. When it was put to her whether that meant she would be unable to parent Patrick, she replied, ` ...that's possible'." Also, in his judgment Guest described the mother's threat "as an emotive figure of speech on her part and not a realistic proposition".

"People say things like that in family law," Udorovic said when I raised this point with him. "They say they're going to go crazy. They'll be angry, they'll be disappointed, they'll be hurt, any number of these sorts of emotions - but you don't translate those threats into the possibility of doing physical harm, let alone performing an act like this. They're not synonymous - going crazy and murdering a child - they're worlds apart."

Guest did not turn a deaf ear to the mother's claims. His judgment refers to evidence given by the psychiatrist who had been treating the woman since 1999 and who told the court that he thought his client could adjust to additional contact between Patrick and the father. He said in evidence that the family unit of lesbian parents, while fragile, "is in fact strengthening". Guest saw the glimmers of hope as stronger stuff. He believed his empathetic words of support for gay and lesbian families and his urging that Patrick had everything to gain from contact with his donor father would help the mother and the co-parent accommodate this relationship.

The lawyers who represented the mother say that she never read the judgment.

Confidence is a paradoxical thing. It rests on thistledown pillars of hope and expectation, until success cements them solidly into place or failure blows them away. Guest did not arrive at his assumptions lightly. He begins formulating his judgments on the first day of hearing, making progressive sense of the evidence as it is presented to him in court.

The Family Law Act requires him to regard the child's best interests as paramount. He looks to the credibility of the witnesses, what they say and how they act. He considers their body language, their demeanour, their gestures, grimaces and frowns. He listens to expert opinions from paediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists and court counsellors. He applies the balance of probabilities as the standard of proof.

The judge was not impressed with the mother as a witness. He commented on her descent into "monologues" emphasising "an intransigent and uncompromising belief" which at times involved "gratuitously and unnecessarily denigrating the father". He wrestled with her "irrational" obsession that the father should "not have any role in Patrick's life in a natural, ordinary, parental and fatherly manner". He took issue with a Family Law Act that does not recognise a sperm donor as a parent, even though he is the biological father and a person who in this case was found to hold "a genuine and profound paternal love" for the child bearing his "genetic blueprint".

Whatever the difficulties between the mother, the co-parent and the donor father, Guest nailed his belief in what was possible to the immutable fact that "Patrick is loved deeply by them all".

There is a view among family law practitioners that Justice Guest lends a compassionate ear to husbands' and fathers' rights and obligations in a court that is often criticised by some men for making custodial orders that favour mothers over fathers. His supporters see this as a sign of independence and spine. He believes strongly that there is an obligation on mothers and fathers to encourage their children to have contact with the non-custodial parent.

PatrickPatrick's image on the program for his memorial service.

YOU COULD SPECULATE FOREVER ON how this homo-nuclear attempt at family went so horribly wrong. There is no black box in the wreckage. There are happy homo-nuclear families and unhappy conventional nuclear families.

Family Court judges have the difficult job of sifting through broken lives and twisted truths to safeguard the future of the children left behind when a marriage or a relationship or a contractual arrangement collapses in an acrid chain of allegation, denial and counter-allegation. I say you did this. No, I didn't. I say you did that.

I never met Patrick's mother. She was an artist. One of her paintings now hangs in the foyer of the law firm Counsel & Kelly, which represented her in court. Among other things, it depicts a figure clasping a briefcase with a fish inside it - which is an apposite metaphor for the tension between biology and social engineering.

"I still get emotional. What the mother did was murder the child and kill the living. Not a day will go by without them thinking..."

The father of Patrick is broken. The photo on the previous page is one of his favourite images of the two of them together. It was taken at Melbourne Zoo as they set out on their first adventure after Guest made his orders for an increase in visits, amending the previous restrictive regime whereby father and son had to meet at the house of a third party nominated by the mother, and at her insistence stay within the fence line of the property. The father is still coming to terms with the finality of Patrick's absence, because being apart from him for long periods was the pattern of their relationship. He is comforted by the love they shared and his memory of Patrick's reluctance to leave on the very last day they spent in each other's company.

"I still get emotional," Guest says of the memory of what has been lost. "To take this child's life is just so horrible . Do you know what I think it's about? What the mother did was murder the child and kill the living. Not a day will go by without them thinking . " He was referring to the co-parent and the father and their friends and family. He could easily have included himself.

Among his papers is the printed program, sent to him by Udorovic, for a memorial service organised by Patrick's father. On the cover is a photograph (left) of a little boy, his eyes smiling with a hint of mischief echoed in a wide grin. His birth name is printed above the spare details of his short life: 11 September 1999 - 1 August 2002.

Udorovic attended the ceremony to show support. "I was touched by [Patrick]. He was real to me and God only knows what sort of future he may have had, and I knew in my heart that his father would always have done the best for him. He could have opened all sorts of avenues in life for him that his mother, no matter how well-intentioned, could not have done. He could only ever have been a positive, a bonus in his life."

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