Divorce First Aid Kit For Men www.menz.org.nz
|Kit produced by Men's Centre North Shore.|
This information is given out in good faith from the Men's Centre North Shore - BUT - we are not lawyers, and this is not formal legal advice. We advise that you see a lawyer on any matters relating to marriage or relationship breakdown, child custody, access and support, property and allegations of abuse.
If you want further information on these issues or referral to suitable lawyers, health professionals, private detectives or support organisations in the Auckland area, phone the Men's Centre North Shore at (09) 415-0049
Dispute is not Divorce
It is assumed that men using this kit will have already done all they can to save their marriage or relationship, and will have utilised such counselling and reconciliation services as appropriate, particularly where children are involved.
If your divorce is just beginning
You've been hurt. But if you don't act now, the wound may get worse. For most men, it's the first time such a massive shock has hit them -- they're off balance, reeling. This First Aid Kit has been assembled by men who have survived the same crisis you're now enduring -- your problem isn't unique. By recognising the predictable aspects, you can take control of the situation, but you must DO IT NOW!
Seek help now
You need every bit of support you can get now, from your family, friends, workmates, fathers' support groups, men's groups, your lawyer, neighbours, minister, doctor, employer, bank manager. You were probably dependent on your wife for much of the emotional support you're going to need now.
Events in the days immediately surrounding separation can be crucial. This is a time when someone who is unprepared will find it hard to grasp what is going on. Men should get as much advice as possible as soon as they know that the relationship is in trouble. If possible you should have a strategy worked out beforehand.
If your wife is taking the initiative, be aware that there is nothing in the legal system that will save your marriage, and that much damage can be done every day you do nothing. If you have done all you can to save the marriage but failed, seize that initiative yourself. Get a lawyer RIGHT NOW.
Don't sign any preliminary agreements
Many men, in a misguided attempt to stop the divorce have signed documents which their lawyers later found impossible to break. Men have, in the first day, even hours of despair, signed away all their property, their children, their rights.
On the other hand, there may be some negotiation possible before the separation happens. You should know exactly what your position is so that you know what you risk if it comes to a fight in court. An out-of-court settlement is probably your best option. In particular, you should aim for an agreement about the children before the separation (written would be even better than verbal). You might want to consider drawing up a "parenting plan" with your ex-to-be.
Don't make irrational decisions when stressed
Don't try to handle everything yourself. Now is not an appropriate time to be staunch and self-reliant. Get the support and advice that you need to make sensible decisions and agreements. Many men who talk to us after things went horribly wrong say things like "I just couldn't think straight" or "my brain wasn't working properly". The prospect of losing their wife, children, and home and family is likely to be the most stressful experience that most men will face in their lives.
While some couples are only too aware that their relationship is in trouble, many men have absolutely no idea that their marriage is about to end, and experience a major psychological shock when they are presented with the news. Men are 11 times more likely to commit suicide than women in a relationship break-up situation. Others engage in dangerous and life-threatening behaviour such as drunk driving. Remember, no matter how bad your problems seem right now, you can be sure that things will eventually change. Don't make things worse for your children than they already are.
If you feel everything is getting on top of you, and that life is starting to look hopeless, you may need professional assistance. While it is quite normal and expected that you will feel miserable at times, beyond a certain point it is no longer possible to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". If you are not coping with day-to-day decisions, or having suicidal thoughts, visit your doctor; they are trained to make a proper assessment and decide if treatment is necessary.
Less than 20% of separations are initiated by men, with about 20% being mutual. The rest of the time, divorces are initiated by the wife, and many men we speak to have no idea their relationship is in trouble until it is too late. Often she will have been preparing for months with coaching from friends or agencies such as Women's Refuge. She may even have been secretly receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit for up to six months before you find out she's leaving. If she goes to a Women's Refuge a team of workers may turn up when you are away with vans and trailers and strip the house of furniture. In other cases, a bailiff may thrust a Protection Order into your hand at work preventing you from going near your house or family at all.
Make sure you have access to an emergency supply of funds. Many men suddenly discover the joint account has been cleaned out and they don't even have taxi fares or money for accommodation. Emergency housing and Refuges are generally only available for women.
Get a secure mail address
Don't get mail from lawyers or official agencies sent to your family home. You will also need a new address to give the bank, organisations that you belong to, and the Inland Revenue Department (although they do have a funny way of finding you on their own). If your work or temporary place of residence isn't suitable, try parents or other relatives. It's a good excuse to keep in touch. If none of these options are available, rent a post box.
Should you move out of your home?
There are two options:
Avoid Protection Orders at all costs!
There are very few situations where a man is justified in hitting a woman. In some cases, a minimal amount of violence may be required to restrain a violent women who is attacking you, but great care should be taken to avoid using any more force than is absolutely necessary to defend yourself. If you think a situation is about to turn violent, try to leave as quickly as possible - if you are a man, you will almost certainly be held legally responsible. The discovery that your wife is sleeping with your best friend and intends to leave you is NOT a situation where a violent reaction on your part is going to achieve anything useful. If your wife decides to leave there is nothing you can do to make her to change her mind, and if in desperation you resort to physical force, the only result will be that your problems suddenly get much worse. Violence committed in front of your children is likely to be considered child abuse, and could cause CYPS (Children and Young Persons Service) to decide that you are an abusive parent. Note that even shouting should be curtailed, especially in front of or around children. Remember that HER PERCEPTION of risk, real or not, is all that matters to a judge or police.
Be yourself -- don't be baited. At all costs, resist your wife's provocations to irrational or even violent reaction. If the police are called they will most likely arrest you, even if you are the victim. All the agencies on the North Shore which deal with domestic violence are members of the North Harbour Family Violence Prevention Project, which requires total agreement with gender-feminist ideology. They train police and social workers to believe that all domestic violence is perpetrated by men. Politically incorrect groups like the Men's Centre North Shore are banned from their meetings.
Having an order issued against you makes you look like the "bad guy" in court, even if you have never been violent in your life. You will be told to attend a Stopping Violence course. Some men describe these courses as nothing more than feminist indoctrination - by people who believe that men are the cause of all our society's problems. If you refuse to complete the course, as increasing numbers of men do, you may be jailed. In theory you can appeal the order, but we are not aware of a case where this has been successful, which means this is likely to just waste more of your money. One North Shore man who has not even been accused of violence, and only had the order taken out against him because he kept trying (unsuccessfully) to phone his ex-wife to find out what was happening, not only lost his recent attempt to avoid having to attend a Stopping Violence course, but had to pay $200 court costs as well.
Don't blow it!
Consider the consequences of everything you put into writing, everything you say to your ex-partner on a possibly recorded phone or in the presence of witnesses. Document as soon as possible all relevant information you pick up from meetings or phone calls with your ex-partner.
Why you should respect Protection Orders!
If a Protection Order is issued, no matter what you must respect it. Don't mistakenly think that because it hasn't been served on you yet it is not valid. Police told one Auckland man that they could throw him in jail immediately, even though the Order wasn't due to be served until the next day. If you are told by your partner that an Order has been issued, don't take any chances! Don't try and contact your wife or children in any way unless she specifically permits it. Schools will be alerted and may report you to police. Even sending flowers may be interpreted as a threat. New police policy is to prosecute all breaches of Protection Orders, and we know of cases where men go to jail as a result. One local man was released after a three month sentence to find his house and assets sold, his ex-wife and children overseas, and his business in liquidation.
If you are arrested
Calm down! The police are only doing their job, and attending domestic incidents is probably their least popular part of it. Treat them with respect and you are likely to be treated well in return. One young Northcote man failed to appreciate the importance of this advice, and ended up facing 14 charges, some of them serious. He didn't get bail, and spent almost a year locked up on remand.
Don't talk to police about the incident or sign any statement until you talk to a lawyer. The police will try to ask you questions, but just keep repeating politely that you want to talk to a lawyer first. When they eventually let you make a phone call, the lawyer will probably tell you not to say anything, and the police should accept this.
Can men take out protection orders?
Yes, while more than 90% of the time it is a women who takes out an order, some men do decide that their best strategy is to pre-empt the woman by applying for an order before she does. Remember, it is hard for a father to put up a good case from a very weak position. If you have grounds, then you should try to get in first with an order - an application in response is likely to be seen as tactical rather than genuine. Of course you will have to be ready to be a sole parent.
This option does carry a certain amount of risk in that women facing potential difficulties in gaining custody of children (because of a history of violence, or mental illness) are more likely to make false sexual abuse accusations in order to tip the scales of justice back in their favour.
Do I need a lawyer or can I represent myself?
You can go to the Family Court and represent yourself. Our assessment is that this is a high-risk strategy unless things are going very smoothly or you are smart enough to be a lawyer. Here are a few tips for men who make this choice, or who are forced into the situation because they run out of money.
is available to men with minimal incomes who meet their criteria. Legal Aid is a loan, so if you are likely to have future income or gain assets, count on paying it back eventually. Legal Aid lawyers range from excellent to downright incompetent, so avoid having one appointed for you if possible. A lawyer you have chosen may be prepared to apply for legal aid on your behalf. If you are not confident your legal aid lawyer is doing a good job it is possible to change, but this should be considered a fairly drastic step. Legal aid will pay the bare minimum needed for preparation, filing documents and attending hearings. Don't expect any frills. You may be able to help by collecting relevant documents, and writing down any points important to you in a clear, concise form. Keep all letters, records, and court papers. Document any information you pick up from meetings or phone calls with your ex-partner.
Evaluate your lawyer critically
Generally, men who can afford good legal representation are more likely to have a positive outcome than those who can't. The best way to find a good lawyer is to get recommendations from friends or associates who have had previous good experiences with them. In Auckland, Men's Centre North Shore can recommend male-friendly lawyers. The problems with lawyers you should be aware of are:
If, for any reason, you suspect that you're not getting the best advocacy possible, seek another lawyer, and get a second opinion.
Money, money, money
Nobody is ever really prepared for the expense of legally seeking his rights, but no matter what your financial situation, now is not the time to be cheap. You can lose much more in the long run. In most cases, the woman's legal bills will probably be financed by legal aid. You on the other hand may have to come up with "front money", and will probably eventually dip into your assets. If you want to fight for custody, it could cost you over $100,000. Stop. Think. What is really best for the children? What is important to you now? What will be important to you years later, when all this has been cast in concrete?
She's not the same person any more
She is, unfortunately, an adversary, being advised by a lawyer with only her interests in mind. Be courteous, but don't let the natural tendency of most men to be gentlemen' destroy your future happiness. You may still care for her, but she's picked up a weapon far more powerful than even she may recognise -- the Family Court and its practitioners.
What about the children?
If at all possible, keep the children in the family home, as this may be the least emotionally de-stabilising thing for them. Don't just disappear from their lives though, no matter how much you are hurting - keep in contact with them. Children find the fact of their parents splitting up very stressful, and are likely to develop behaviour problems at home or at school. They need your support and to know that you love them now more than ever before. No matter how nasty things get between you and your ex, don't use the children as a weapon. If a babysitter / housekeeper is needed, do whatever you need to do to provide one.
Both parents should be aware of the very real damage they can do to their children if they get into a prolonged fight. Parental alienation, the total loss of one parent and associated extended family, is going to put that child at a considerable disadvantage compared with a child with two loving parents and their relatives.
Should you fight for custody?
Unless you are genuinely concerned that your children will be in danger in the care of your ex-partner, fighting for custody is a high-risk strategy for men. Current statistics are not available, but through the 1980s New Zealand women succeeded around 80% compared to 13% at best for men, when final custody orders were made by the Family Court. Joint custody was only ordered in approximately 10% of the cases. In 1990, final custody orders affected over 3,000 children in New Zealand.
When things turn nasty, the risk of false sexual abuse or domestic violence accusations increases significantly. You should also consider the fact that disputes of this nature commonly drag on for several years and have cost some men up to $40,000 in legal fees. Women on the other hand usually have their costs paid by legal aid.
If there is no way to avoid an all-out fight, it can make it tough on the kids; particularly if it is early in the piece because they will be still adjusting to the separation. However, if it is later then the mother will be better able to fight and the kids are likely to simply withdraw from the father. There is also likely to be more social pressure on the mother to keep the father involved if it happens early. Later on things are settled, they move much more slowly, and people don't feel that they have the right to interfere. We suggest setting the ground-rules early rather than late.
Negotiation - free Family Court counselling
For men, by the best way to achieve a good outcome is to negotiate an agreement in the early stages, and to avoid conflict as far as possible. The Family Court offers up to six free counselling sessions with agencies such as Relationship Services to separating parents, where experienced mediators attempt to get both partners to agree to a solution. Generally they see the man and woman separately in the first two sessions, then get you together on the third. While you are probably feeling hurt and angry and not at all like making life easy for your ex-partner, remember your children's needs should come first.
We don't know of any reliably successful strategies. We know quite a bit about what does not work at present, and we know some of the counter-moves which might be taken. If fathers act as expected we know that they will almost certainly lose. We have to keep trying different approaches, identifying how the court reacts, and publicising the flaws in the court's approach.
Men don't win custody; some women lose custody. The conflict is also long-term, at least if the father does well initially. You can expect to have your custody challenged regularly. If you just get access, you can expect to have that eroded over time.
But don't just give in
When we suggest you ensure your children's needs should come first' - these should be realistically assessed. Some women will use them very effectively as a bargaining lever. You should think of their long-term needs, which include your effective involvement. Too often fathers are conciliatory for the sake of the children, while the mothers take all they can this way, after which they get tough and grab even more.
This means that the best strategy is to ensure that the woman does not get all she wants too easily.
Even though your marriage is ending, your relationship will continue
If two people chose to have children together, they remain in some kind of active relationship until the children are adults. In the ideal situation, where both mother and father are able to share the childrearing, there are lots of points of contact - school events, sport, medical emergencies, holidays. If you have boys, the absence of a father is likely to lead you to Family Group Conferences and court appearances when they become teenagers. As much as you can, separate your parent role from your dysfunctional partnership. Even if the best you can manage is a cool, business-like approach, acting (even if you don't feel it) civilised will make life a lot easier for everyone. Parents that work together cooperatively are the most effective, and have the least trouble with their children.
Access to children
Avoid meeting your ex-partner at pick up and delivery times if tension or arguments are likely. Try to organise grandparents, other family members, or friends to act as a neutral base to make the changeover. If you have none of these options, organisations such as Barnardo's offer a changeover service. You can phone them on (09) 524 9175. Stick to your arrangements about time, and don't use the children to get information about or send messages to your ex-partner.
If your ex-partner uses denial of access as a weapon to punish you, it is possible to apply to the Family Court for a Distress Warrant, which means the police will attend to make sure the custodial parent cooperates. Obviously, this course of action should be followed only as a last resort. Children are likely to find the experience of being removed from home by police traumatic, and may begin to think they themselves are criminals of some kind.
If your ex-partner has left town, or is hiding in a Women's Refuge, you will need to find the address before the warrant can be issued. Although the authorities will be well aware of her whereabouts (after all they will be paying her the Domestic Purposes Benefit), they will not release this information to you. One of our members hired a private detective to successfully track his ex-wife down so that access could be enforced. Few women are ever charged with failing to adhere to court rulings, and those that are typically receive little penalty. Men on the other hand who snatch their children are considered kidnappers, and will most probably be hunted down by police and likely jailed. Clearly, this is a situation for men to avoid.
Maintenance of children
Any voluntary payments, gifts or other contributions to your children's welfare, while showing that the you are concerned and responsible, count for nothing in the Family Court. Common advice is not to pay for anything except what is required. While you shouldn't be totally uncooperative, be aware that it may often be counter-productive to try to be reasonable and flexible on absolutely everything. Rather than simply paying for music lessons on top of everything else, perhaps some agreement should be reached: "I'll pay for this if......". This approach is creating the basis for an ongoing co-operative parenting relationship. At least then you are not generating unrealistic expectations for other parties, and you also have something to bargain with.
We know of men who have been unable to keep up extra' payments and have been punished with reduced access. If your payments are under the table', that is: not declared as income by the mother, you will not even be able to reveal their existence without causing major trouble for her, and inviting massive retaliation. In any case, if your ex-partner applies for a welfare benefit, any contract or agreement you have made with her will be automatically overridden by the Liable Parent Contribution.
of sexual abuse or domestic violence are common if things get nasty. Over 100 men a year contact COSA (Casualties Of Sexual Allegations) after being falsely accused in a custody dispute. Remember, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned". Many men get accused when they find a new partner, so don't rub your ex-partner's nose in the fact. If you do get falsely accused of anything, or even hear rumours that you might be, act fast! Make sure you get a lawyer who knows this area and is male-friendly. For referrals and specialist information about sexual abuse contact COSA (09) 415 8095.
But most of all, get help now!
If you've progressed beyond the stage where this advice is directly useful to you, don't despair. There is hope at every phase of the process.
When it's all over
You will conclude the whole legal system is against you, as a male and a father. That may be so but the situation facing you right now is not the time or the place to take it on. You will likely feel very angry, upset, victimised, used, humiliated, and valued only for your income and assets. The best you can normally hope for is reasonable access to your children, a reasonable property and child support deal, and absence of any violence or abuse allegations.
There are organisations working for law change in this area and the Men's Centre North Shore is one such organisation. When you are back on your feet you may decide you can put some time or other resources into helping other men facing the problems you have been through. Your knowledge and experience, your new motivation and insights into how the system doesn't work well for men and children can then be put to good use. We look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Based on a 1983 article in SINGLE DAD'S LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE by Bob Hirschfeld.
Adapted, expanded and updated to apply to New Zealand in 1998 by members of Men's Centre North Shore.
More Information Kits
Support for dads here
Information and articles on NZ Family Court here
Information on female violence here
Links to other sites about divorce and separation here