Many options that parents would find acceptable are being rejected, or their lives are being made unnecessarily difficult in the attempt to satisfy these requirements, as explained in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Joel Gibson.
For example, what if one partner wishes to move overseas for work or family reasons? And what about the mother who had been forced to remain in a Queensland caravan park, depressed and living on welfare payments, after she moved there from Sydney for her husband's mining career, and was required by the Family Court to keep the children in close proximity of the child's father after the divorce? (In this latter case, an appeal to the High Court resulted in an order for a fresh hearing.)
It has now been decided that Judges will have to ask whether an arrangement is ''practicable'' before they can make orders for equal time in future. Interestingly, it seems to be almost always the mother who wants to move, often to live with a new partner, making gender a major issue in the debate.
When a couple separates, the custody and property-settlement issues need to be legally addressed, and this is a huge cost for both parties. On top of this, if someone wishes to move interstate or overseas, they will incur the normal removal costs and emotional changes (for them and the children). On top of this again, for the party 'left behind', there are costs of maintaining contact with children, which have recently been mandated by the Courts, which may be as much as $15,000 a year depending on the number of children and the plane fares or other travel and accommodation costs.
Despite several very public and sensational stories in recent years, describing fathers illegally abducting their children and taking them overseas, in some cases resulting in the mother losing contact for years, recent Research at Sydney University has disclosed several cases where, during divorce or custody proceedings, the mother had failed to disclose to the court that she was planning to take the child/ren overseas to live. This was devastating for the fathers, when they found out in this very public legal arena.
Well-Being Australia Chairman Mark Tronson has had long experience in industrial and sporting chaplaincies, and has seen people's pain in distressed family circumstances. He suggests that the Courts and the general public need to undertake a radical change in their attitudes to this modern 'fact of life'.
It is painful for all the people involved. This needs to be understood, and then we can go a long way toward the management of the inevitable wounds; particularly where fathers or mothers are unable to see their children on anything like a regular basis.
He has seen that, once a divorce has occurred, it creates such emotional havoc and upheaval within a person's inner experience that there must be a change in approach to trauma management. It is no good friends or those 'in authority' regaling the distressed couple with quotes from a legal or holy book; or giving retrospective advice like 'you should have done....' This approach, however well meaning, simply adds to the hurt and the anguish.
"Multiply by ten the changes that you think will occur upon divorce, and you'll be nearer the mark," says M. V. Tronson. "Into the emotional mix, you need to throw issues such as asset divisions, custody issues, spiritual and disciplinarian situations, and decisions about where each party will live and where the children will go to school/football/ballet. Resolving these are all been staggeringly greater than ever anticipated. The stress is overwhelming upon the soul."
A divorced parent aches, wondering if whatever they do or say will be a cause for alienation. Sometimes the financial burden is overpowering. The mental agility required to sort out mutually agreeable arrangements for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, holidays, weddings and funerals lead not just to bad dreams, but to horrific nightmares. Now there are concerns that fathers are being left out of parent-teacher meetings, school carnivals and the like.
Divorce wounds open unexpectedly. The dread of being seen a failure and the horrendous guilt cause remorse and grief. With unfathomable self accusation, all these things crash in upon the soul of the divorcee like a tsunami.
"These emotions can rise again, with double the intensity when grandchildren come along," explains M V Tronson.
Although many people harbour resentment and pain for some considerable time, and although this can be re-ignited at certain times (for example when friends celebrate an anniversary), most people move on with their lives, and the great majority form happy new relationships (although second plus marriages have a higher rate of divorce), that are calmer and more reasoned after the lessons learnt from a previous unsuitable marriage.
However, blended families come with their own complications. Mark Tronson believes that a fresh, new approach is available to the daily management of such tensions. In his experience, he has found that a thousand published research papers can never compare to the Bible's emphasis on 'total forgiveness' which is firmly grounded upon Calvary.
He explains that 'total forgiveness' includes 'self forgiveness' and this is what Christ taught us, in His wisdom, as the Author and Finisher of our faith.
If divorced parents are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, then Mark Tronson suggests taking time to breathe deeply and think about forgiving themselves. He suggests that this is an experience associated with a touch of the divine; a personal inner secret key to the renewal of hope in the future; a chance to think about the possibility of bringing joy and a new start firmly based on Christ's sacrifice and His healing love.