Chapter 1

The Three Golden Rules

Some say, in the beginning God (whether you believe in this idea or not) created man and woman. For argument’s sake, let’s call them Tarzan and Jane. But the truth is God can’t be blamed for separation and divorce. That’s the work of Jane and Tarzan. Though marriages are created with the best intentions, breaking up can be ugly, bitter and sometimes spiteful. Whatever we start in life will eventually come to an end, it seems, and by the end of the 20th century too many romances that grew into relationships and blossomed into marriage ended in separation and divorce.

The writer Mark Twain said, ‘write what you know’. Out on a Limb doesn’t draw solely on my experiences, but is reminiscent of observations and lessons I learned during my time in the jungle of family lore. In my career before becoming a full-time dad, I had the privilege of knowing some rather distinguished people, including professionals from across society. Often clients would offer me insights into life, but probably the most considered counsel came from judges. One judge’s advice on learning of my ‘predicament’ radically changed my understanding and, ultimately, my situation. It offered me a way forward and out of the jungle that was encroaching and consuming every part of my life……….

Chapter 12

The Best-Laid Parenting Plans of Mice and Men

A parenting plan is written on paper, not rubber, so don’t bend the rules. It may weigh next to nothing, but its contents are likely to be set in stone. Looking at it for the first time, it’s hard to see where the money’s gone, yet what you’re looking at is a game plan that defines how things are going to be now and into the future. It may be written in plain English, but it often doesn’t read that way. The legal meanings of key words in these kinds of documents are of consequence.

There’s no simple formula or template to explain how these documents are built, and those who will be governed by them may end up not making a single contribution to their construction. The Family Law Act 1975 makes War and Peace seem like a Sunday afternoon read. What may be easier to get your head around are the amendments that were introduced in 2006. It is known that as prime minister, John Howard felt that fundamental changes to the Family Law Act were needed if single fathers were to be more than just people their children visited on a weekend. Be assured, if separation does occur a parenting order is almost unavoidable. So again, the more you act to create an agreement the less costly it will be for all. Yes, paper can be folded, but these rules are not to be bent, so it’s best to put it all out on the negotiating table, rather than trying to have it amended a couple of weeks, months or years later. Dates and times in a document like this are concrete and should be rigorously adhered to. The order may also define how, when and where you are obliged to communicate with Jane about the care and maintenance of the children. If arguing is in your genes, it will also spell out how you are to behave towards each other. Don’t worry about how shallow the gene pools are that you or Jane may have come from. The amendments to the Family Law Act have considered the lowest possible common dominators in reshaping this law to create a more equitable parenting outcome for children. Two expressions that carry significant weight in parenting orders are ‘lives with’ and ‘spends time with’. These words will identify the primary carer, so don’t make the assumption that ‘shared’ means equal. A shared care arrangement may initially be proposed to you and Jane, but if for one or a multitude of reasons you can’t find common ground, the sharing suggestion may quickly evaporate from the conversation. The court now considers shared care arrangements to be best, but ultimately, if relations remain hostile, what is best for the kids is that you or Jane may end up with what’s called vaguely ‘significant time’. No one is really sure how long ‘significant time’ is meant to be. So your availability to your children may determine how much ‘significant time’ you could be afforded. Hopefully it will include consecutive days during the week and over the weekend………..

Chapter 14

The lore of the jungle

‘Hey Tarzan, how’s it hanging?’ asks his primate friend.
‘You can see, it’s touching the ground,’ replies Tarzan.
‘Where’s Jane and the kids?’ asks his friend.
Tarzan winks and says, ‘Jane’s at home, looking after the little monkeys.’

Unfortunately, guys, the joke, which is not at all funny, is on us. Fast forward to the middle of the 20th century, and you won’t find Tarzan and his primates hanging out in a tree. That’s because pubs have been invented. But Jane’s still at home when Tarzan comes swinging through the front door, hoping she has the dinner on. Even if we get all medieval about it, with Tarzan wearing shining armour and galloping around slaying dragons while Jane is locked up in the castle at home with the kids. Since time began, it doesn’t matter what era in history you choose, the ending has always been the same. Tarzan provides and Jane cares.

This is not to say that men can’t, won’t or don’t care for their kids. The lore that was written way back in the jungle and has pretty much been the norm for humans for tens of thousands of years reads: women care and men provide for the family. Every bloke who has ever gone out into the world to make his mark, or prove something to his father, has upheld this lore without the slightest premonition of how it might come to affect fathers in the early 21st century………..