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  • I Prefer Suicide to Lesbian Mum ( Part 2/2 )
  • By Kylie Smith
  • The Sunday Herald Sun
    Page 2 of 2
  • 24/11/2002 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 30 articles in 2002 )
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Neither parent is allowed to see Peter until the case returns to court this week.

When John and his wife, Mary, separated in May 1998, no one imagined the breakdown would descend into such bitterness and pain.

Mary moved in with her new lesbian partner while Peter and his sister Ellen remained with their father.

Mary had access to her children for five days each fortnight.

Soon after the separation, Mary filed for full custody of the children, refusing John's pleas for counselling and mediation to spare them a court battle.

The legal wrangling continued for almost three years, while the children remained with John and saw their mother regularly.

Mary accused John of sexually abusing his daughter -- a claim both Ellen and John strenuously denied. A subsequent Department of Human Services investigation found the allegation was not substantiated.

AT a custody hearing in April last year, at which John was unrepresented, a judge removed the children from his care, giving custody to their mother.

A devastated John was granted access for one weekend a fortnight -- a court order with which, he says, his former wife often failed to comply.

John believed his children were increasingly unhappy, but felt powerless to do anything.

Their mother's new partner is a Department of Human Services manager, and John feared her contacts in the court system had influenced aspects of the custody battle.

The situation escalated last November, when Peter ran away, little more than six months after being placed in his mother's care.

During the next six weeks Peter ran away twice.
He was then placed in a psychiatric ward for five days.

Mary applied to the court to have John's access to his children stopped, arguing he was encouraging Peter's behaviour.

Two months later Ellen ran away to her father's home.

Mary did not seek a court order to have Ellen returned, and she has remained with John.

Meanwhile, Peter's behaviour was becoming increasingly worrying. He was prevented from having any contact with his father or sister.

As it became apparent his running away was a continuing pattern of behaviour, Mary began watching Peter constantly.

A court affidavit by a former housemate described the boy as "a prisoner in her care".

AFTER Peter was returned from running away for a fourth time in January this year, he was kept away from school for seven months.

"Everywhere I go she's right next to me," he says.

To complicate matters, Mary became the target of an extremist men's group. John says he has nothing to do with the group and does not support it.

The situation again came to a head this month when Peter ran away for the fifth time -- his whereabouts unknown to both parents.

Authorities believed John was concealing his son, and Federal Police raided his home, confiscating computers.

Peter kept in touch with supporters by telephone and a meeting was arranged with the Sunday Herald Sun last week. Peter said he ran away because he had been prevented from seeing or calling his sister or father since Christmas.

"My mum always bags my dad and my dad's family, which is my family," he said. "She doesn't let me see friends."

"I feel angry at my mum and sad I don't see my dad."

On Wednesday a Family Court judge accused John of hiding his son and jailed him for contempt of court.

Peter learned his father was in jail when he rang a family friend.

The following day Peter turned himself in to the Department of Human Services and John was released. The exhausted father told the Sunday Herald Sun he would go to jail again, if necessary, to protect his son.

John fears the stress will become too much for Peter.

"He is emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted," John said. "He has been introverted, he has lost trust in everyone."

But Peter is still hopeful that soon he and his dad will be back together.

"My dad is the best person in the world," he said.

"He always plays with me, he understands me -- he's a pretty caring person. I can talk to him about boys' stuff -- it's hard to talk to mum about it."

Peter knows his mum loves him, but says she doesn't understand what is best for him.

John says his family's case highlights a broader issue -- that the courts are ignoring children's right to be heard.

"The court has done nothing at all for these two children," he said.

"I'm being crucified and my kid, at the end of the day, is being punished."

John's solicitor has called for major reform of the Family Court, saying Peter's case is just one of many that have been badly handled. The solicitor said the court's adversarial system incited parents into battle, often making situations worse, and with little regard for the welfare of children.

"What troubles me is the preparedness of the system to allow these fights to start," the solicitor said.

The solicitor said a judge was prepared to jail John because a court order had not been enforced, rather than examining what was best for the child involved.

"All the judge was interested in was the authority of the court, not the welfare of the child," the solicitor said.

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