I have a shared care order for my son who is nearly the amazing age of 4. It took two rather long court applications and processes but I now have my son 3 days and 3 nights a week and half of all potential school holidays. How we got there is a long story with some sad, truly heart breaking and fearful times. However something I learnt in the journey was about how we see ourselves and how we think others will. And now that I understand the almost transactional court processes and paperwork processes, I have to say I trust in the system more than I thought I would be able to. That is of course because unless you have lived it you cannot really get it.
When I first spoke to a barrister for one off advice in 2018 through a friend of mine, the first question put to me was, “Do you know how the bar in your area is regards equality issues?” I was a little perplexed and the barrister could tell. She was attempting to word things very carefully but it was not landing with me what she meant. In the end she plainly said “We need to know if the bar in your area is homophobic.” I asked why that mattered. She said you need to know the landscape that you are dealing with and those attitudes can tend to vary area by area and that we needed to know how applications and challenges to care would be seen through the lenses of the court.
I am gay and happily married to my husband of 19 year and who I have raised two children with already. I am step dad to his two children from a previous relationship and they were 3 and 5 when we met and my other half had been separated from his wife for about a year and a half. They are now 22 and 24. The co-parenting relationship with my older children was very amicable and very fruitful. My youngest was born out of a friendship with his two mummies, however our original plans for shared care 50/50 could not be amicably agreed in the end.
So when faced with the potential that a court system may favour me less because I was gay was something really hard to deal with. It was also something that I had thought and wondered about beforehand too. In some ways I was doubly scared. I am gay AND I am a man/father. Societal issues have changed massively since I came out in 1998 at age 18. However, the journey of homophobia I experienced is something I cannot un-live very easily. On top of that I had also had the constant phrases communicated to me that dads were not important or likely to get a decent amount of shared care.
I spent the majority of my time scared, worried, fearful and almost that I was gambling with the odds of the world trusting me to be a valuable parent. I had always felt I was however, fear is unfathomable sometimes and it can eat you up. I had masses amount of support around me from my family and friends. My two big kids were forever giving the hugs and words to keep going. Without the wrap around support like that I would have struggled even more. I know many fathers or single parents just don’t have that. The fear was entrenched though and until I could see the future of being really involved in my son’s life forever more …. The dream was fading.
Then Dads Unlimited came shining a light on the horizon ahead. In January 2020 I thought to myself, could this really be what I hope it will be? I have to say it was. My mentor gave me care and support but also the direct talk that I needed cutting through the fear to the heart of the process that I needed to act on. And I hit the go button pretty much within a week or so from seeking mediation, to court application being sent and being allocated a barrister. My mentor helped me with honing in my communication, reducing any potential conflict and also keeping a very balanced view of dads and mums in our situation. I guess that DU lightened the load and the compassion and support was always there keeping regular contact for the court papers process but also the 5 minute call to bring me down emotionally and keep me grounded. I am the type of person who, if I can understand a process and what is involved, I can move on and get it very quickly. So DU could answer all my questions and therefore with a potential trajectory of the court process was clear and pretty direct.
In this time I also set up some fundraisers for DU such as spinathons and yogathons. What amazed me was the community feel from mums and dads attending but also that so many approached me to ask more about DU as they have a friend, relative or colleague who needs that type of help.
My fears of being a dad/male and being gay were surplus to the process. That took some work and some time to sink in and probably to a little frustrating for my mentor (ha ha) but I felt growth in both our relationship in this process and wider discovery of each other’s worlds as fathers. I had set myself three goals to achieve as a minimum through court for care of my son. They were realistic and workable and that’s where my mentor and the support of DU came to its fore.
Barrister allocated to our case, CAFCASS and the judge were only interested in getting the process done for our son and the noise of anything else, in my own head as well as what was written in court papers, were surplus. This mainly because there were no safeguarding issues or other that would affect the care of our son. Then in July 2020 the second hearing finalised the shared care order and my three goals were met and complete via conference calls as Covid and lockdown meant no cases appearing in court. Aside of my husband I knew that the first person I needed to call was my mentor at DU. He had text me and asked how it went, as it was several hours longer process in the day for court, and I wasn’t able to respond to him. So come 6pm I called him and told him the outcome and he was very pleased for me. He said, “What has your family said about the news?” To which I responded, “I haven’t told anyone else yet. I wanted you to be the first one to know.”