These single men are looking to start a family through surrogacy

Surrogate fathers

Shaun Resnik (left) became the first single dad in Victoria to have a child through surrogacy. His story has inspired Suhel Jain (right) to begin his journey to fatherhood.

On 2 March 2022 Shaun Resnick described himself as “the happiest man in Australia”.

It was the day his son Eli was born and the end of a three-and-a-half-year surrogacy journey he endured as a single man.

“I think society is only just waking up to the notion of single fatherhood, especially single gay guys who’ve really had to work super hard to become dads,” the 44-year-old told The Feed.

“One of the great things that’s come out of it (the surrogacy journey) is, it’s been an inspiration to a lot of people. So all of a sudden, while I’m out and about people are coming up to me to say congratulations, and thanks for being an inspiration.”

Shaun was the first single man to be granted approval for the strict requirements to do surrogacy in Victoria.

His journey to satisfy that state’s Patient Review Panel — which assesses people’s applications to access assisted reproductive treatment — included getting legal advice and undertaking counselling and psychological assessment.

“Surrogacy in Australia is altruistic so they (surrogates) don’t get paid nor does the egg donor – it is a gift from their hearts to yours,” he told The Feed.

“The beauty of that is that Eli now gets to have a relationship with his birth mother Carla.”

Shaun spent years building relationships with a number of potential surrogates, three had to pull out for personal reasons.

Throughout that time Shaun was speaking to the woman who became his surrogate Carla Pincombe, about all his ups and downs in the journey.

Shaun and Carla had met at a surrogacy support group, where intended parents, meet potential surrogates, and slowly became close friends.

“There was never ever, ever any intention for Carla carrying for me. She was just purely a friend. And we’d just be mentors for each other.

He told The Feed it was after the third surrogate fell through that Carla said she would carry the baby for him.

“It was one of the most outstanding offers I’ve ever received in my life. I was like in tears. Finally, Carla had come in and saved the day!” he said.

Battling different states’ surrogacy laws

Nicole Russell, a surrogacy lawyer based in Melbourne, told The Feed she has seen an increase in single men looking to start a family since Shaun’s story came out.

“I’m certainly seeing a lot more enquiries made recently, and doing it (surrogacy) alone is definitely tough,” she said.

Nicole helps people navigate the delicate legal grounds of surrogacy in Victoria.

One of the challenging things about surrogacy in Australia is that there are no uniform laws.

Each state has its own laws and this can make it difficult when seeking surrogacy across state borders.

For example, intended parents in Tasmania must have a surrogate in that state.

In Western Australia, surrogacy is not available to gay couples.

Surrogates in Victoria and Western Australia must have had their own child before being a surrogate.

However in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia they can be a surrogate for their first pregnancy.

The minimum age for surrogates in each state and territory is 25, except for the ACT, where it is 18.

Before any procedures can go ahead the surrogacy must be approved by the Patient Review Panel in that state.

‘Aladdin is a story of good triumphing evil, which is a good lesson for my future bubba’

Inspired by Shaun’s journey, Suhel Jain has taken the first steps to begin starting a family through surrogacy.

The 35-year-old has had to go out of his comfort zone to make connections with potential surrogates online and in person.

“I’ve never had social media before in my life but I’ve signed up to Facebook to join these surrogacy support groups where intended parents can introduce themselves to surrogates,” he told The Feed.

“I’ve been to two (in-person) surrogacy meet-ups where intended parents and surrogates get the chance to have dinner or lunch and get to know each other.”

“I am ready for this journey, I know it will be a long one and will depend on the niceness of others and the selflessness of others.”

Suhel told The Feed he recently bought a three-bedroom house in Melbourne with two of the bedrooms reserved for his parents and his future child.

“In Indian culture it is really important for a child to have a relationship with their grandparents,” he said.

“My parents are in India but I plan to bring them to Australia once I’ve found a surrogate.”

He told The Feed that while his parents are supportive of his decision to start a family alone, other people in his life have been somewhat critical.

“I’ve heard comments like ‘Oh, you want to be a single dad? So that means the child will not have a mom, have you ever thought about that?’ And ‘Why do you want to bring the child to a world where there is no mom?’” he told The Feed

“Everyone expects you to have a traditional family and when you don’t have that you are kind of the black sheep of the family.”

“But I’ve silenced all those critics by saying ‘look, it is my journey. It is me as an individual. I am the nurturer. I will be doing everything for my child’.

Suhel has also bought some small toys and figurines for his future child including one of his favourite childhood film Aladdin.

The 35-year-old told The Feed that he bought the toy set while travelling in Spain.

“Aladdin is a story of good triumphing evil, which is a good lesson for my future bubba,” he told The Feed

“I want them to know no matter how hard things get in life, being good is the best outcome.”

Creating the next generation of circus performers

Sam Whelan, a circus performer from Melbourne, will start the pregnancy phase of his surrogacy journey soon.

The 31-year-old told The Feed he will be going through a traditional surrogacy method, where the egg donor also carries the baby.

This method is less common in Australia than surrogacy involving an embryo being transferred to the surrogate’s uterus, with the surrogate having no genetic link to the child.

“I wanted to go down this path (traditional surrogacy) as I believe it gives you a stronger connection to the surrogate and there is more of a bonding experience,” he told The Feed.

“Price is another factor, with traditional surrogacy we’re cutting out the middle man and not going to IVF clinics, I expect it’ll cost between $5,000 and $20,000.”

“Surrogacy journeys where there is a donor and surrogate can vary massively in price.”

One of the main reasons for this is the potential for repeated fertility treatments.

Sam told The Feed that he has always wanted to be a parent, but when he turned 30 it was a big emotional push for him to start trying.

“I was ready to be a dad at 25 and by 30 I started to really look into it seriously and I don’t wanna wait around for someone,” he told The Feed.

“At least this way (being single) I won’t have to compromise on parenting styles.”

He told The Feed that he is past his peak as an acrobatic performer and looks forward to beginning the next chapter of his life as a parent.

But it hasn’t been a smooth journey. He told The Feed it took some time for his parents to get on board with his surrogacy journey.

“Initially they didn’t support my decision but I bought my mum a book to explain the journey (of surrogacy) and why people do it.”

Sam said he now has support from both his parents.

Mum who gave birth via IVF at 64 loses custody of twins

A Spanish woman who gave birth to twins aged 64 has lost custody of them after a court ruled she couldn’t look after them properly.

Officials said the children were “in a clear situation of vulnerability” in the care of their mother, identified only by the first name Mauricia.


69 year old IVF mum, Mauricia Ibanez, loses custody of twins

She gave birth to the twins, who are now four, after travelling to the United States for assisted reproduction treatment.

Mauricia said: “Being able to have children at an older age is not a gift it’s an ability.”

However, shortly afterwards, social services assumed guardianship of the babies, coming to the conclusion that they were at risk.

She was allowed to keep in contact with the twins on the condition she was closely monitored by social services.

But they decided she was not following their advice closely enough and decided to remove them permanently.

Mauricia challenged the move but her appeal was rejected by the Family Court, the provincial court and now by the Supreme Court, which ordered them to be placed in foster care because of a lack of proper protection with their current mother.

The Spanish Supreme court ruling ends a four-year legal battle in the city of Burgos, in the autonomous community of Castilla y Leon, in the north-west of the country.

According to national newspaper ABC, the court found that the twins were “in a clear situation of vulnerability” due to their mother’s inability to care for them properly.

But it insisted the decision to remove them was not because of her age or mental health.

Instead, the court said the decision was because of “the indicators of the risk of minors and given the difficulties of the mother shown for some time”.

The kids were not kept in “optimal conditions” and the woman also did not have a social support network or a family to help, officials added.

Speaking to national news outlet Telecinco, Mauricia insisted the court was wrong as the babies were always better with their mother.

She added that the case was all about what was best for the kids, not for her.

However, the mother has exhausted her options for now after the most recent ruling.

The court heard during the hearing how Mauricia has another daughter, also through assisted reproduction, now 11, who lives in Canada.

She was also ruled unfit to care for that child in a ruling in 2014 and she was then taken into foster care.

According to ABC, the court said she is allowed to appeal again every two years, although “they do not predict a different outcome in the short term”.

Bitter Burial Dispute Between Parents of Boys Tragically Killed

The bitter legal dispute between the parents of two boys, killed by an out-of-control car, has hit court, with both arguing how they should be laid to rest.

The parents of two young boys, allegedly mowed down and killed by an out-of-control driver in January, are engaged in a bitter legal dispute over how their bodies should be laid to rest.


Shane Shorey, 7 and Sheldon Shorey, 6, died after they were hit by a car on January 6 while walking on the way back from the swimming pool in Wellington, in central NSW.

They were walking with their mum Shayleen Frail and two others who were all hospitalised with severe injuries.

Last week, it emerged that Shane and Sheldon were still being kept in a morgue in Newcastle after their parents had failed to agree on their final resting place.

The boys’ father Joseph Shorey, who lives in Queensland, wants the boys to be cremated and their ashes to be split with their mother, while Ms Frail wants their bodies buried together in Wellington.

The dispute hit NSW’s Supreme Court today, where Justice John Sackar heard submissions from each parent and promised to deliver a speedy decision next week.

“I understand entirely the grief experienced and it is incumbent on me to move this matter on,” Justice Sackar said.

, representing Ms Frail, described the “significant cultural elements” involved in burying the boys in Wellington and said the family felt cremation would cause the boys further pain in the afterlife.

In an affidavit submitted by Ms Frail, she said she was concerned about the boys being cremated, describing the act as something that would inflict “more suffering on the boys after death”.

“Being cremated after death is putting my babies through more pain and suffering,” Ms Frail said.

“Cremation will separate the boys and (Ms Frail) does not believe her boys will rest easy after death as they will not have a final resting place,” Mr Jones added, on behalf of Ms Frail.

Ms Frail hopes to bury her boys in a single coffin, laying side-by-side.

If that’s not possible, she will place them on top of each other so they can “remain together and continue together onto the afterlife, protected by family and friends in region”, Mr Jones said.

Ms Frail said she was “very scared” that if her boys were cremated, another family tragedy could occur – such as a house fire or a break and enter – and she would have nothing left of them.

Mr Jones told the court the belief in Wellington’s Aboriginal community was that burial helped the bodies “return to Mother Earth … and allowed the elders to guide the boys to the afterlife”.

The boys being buried also allowed the community to maintain a relationship with them.

“It’s not simply a place to mourn and grieve, but a place to feel close to and connect to.

“That belief system is not something (Mr Shorey) says he ascribes to.”

Mr Jones said Mr Shorey’s hope to have his boys’ ashes with him was not a “religious consideration” but a “way to manage his grief”.

“Grief feelings will dissipate and lessen as people move on with their lives,” he added.

Mr Shorey’s barrister, Mark Anderson, argued the father had always maintained a strong relationship with Aboriginal communities and he had been caring for the boys since January 2020.

Mr Shorey also spoke about his fear of returning to the Wellington community after crosses he arranged to be erected in memory of the boys were set on fire and destroyed.

The court heard Mr Shorey was worried, if the boys are buried in Wellington, he may be unwelcome in the NSW town and would be unable to mourn their loss.

Mr Shorey also lives in Emerald, which is around a 16 hours drive away from Wellington.

“The practicalities of the matter favour (Mr Shorey),” Mr Anderson said.

A number of affidavits from Aboriginal elders attested to cremation sometimes being used in death. Mr Anderson also explained that before colonisation, cremation was the norm in Indigenous cultures.

He added that Mr Shorey grew up in Aboriginal communities, had strong ties to the community, was regarded as one of their own and was “sensitive to Aboriginal burial and supportive of that”.

Mr Shorey wants to have a funeral service in Wellington but hopes his boys can be cremated after that, with the ashes split between both parents.

Mr Anderson, through the affidavit of an Aboriginal funeral director, argued burying the ashes of someone was the same as burying their body, however, Mr Jones, the barrister representing Ms Frail, said this was only the case when the ashes were of someone’s entire body.

“The arrangements from (Mr Shorey) will provide a more practical way in which both parents can grieve the loss of their children in a culturally accepted way,” Mr Anderson said.

Justice Sackar reserved his decision for next week.

Jacob Donn, 25, the man charged with the boys’ deaths, will reappear in court next month.

He is facing 14 charges, including dangerous driving occasioning death, negligent driving occasioning death, negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm, driving unlicensed, and failing to stop and assist after vehicle impact causing death.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help pay for the boys’ funerals, which raised more than $28,600.

Mr Shorey earlier told The Dubbo News that a portion of that money had now been used to cover the legal costs of the Supreme Court case.

The adults ‘divorcing’ their parents


It’s the numbers that keep 69-year-old Maggie* awake at night. Numbers that careen wildly through her brain and just won’t add up, no matter how hard she tries. One: her only child, a much-loved adult daughter, Ellie*. Two: a pair of adored grandchildren, a boy and a girl, aged 5 and 3. Three: a gift of $150,000, given to Ellie and her son-in-law, that ought to have secured Maggie a worry-free old age. Four: a new family home, purchased by the young couple, in a suburb just 15 minutes from her unit. And five: the yawning, empty zero which represents the number of communications they’ve shared over the past 15 months.


There are other numbers, too, some too sad for her to contemplate. The countless entreaties she has made to be included in the lives of the only family she has. The birthday and Christmas gifts that go unacknowledged. The rent her daughter and son-in-law demand she pays on the unit she occupies that was bought, in part, with the money she gave them. Her steadily deflating bank balance, which is still struggling to metabolise a recent $6000 vet bill. The odds that she will beat the lymphatic cancer that she was diagnosed with five years ago. And there’s another number which Maggie shares: today, Ellie is turning 33.

“I’ve had a dreadful night,” she confides when we speak on the phone from her home in a south-west Sydney suburb. “Too much introspection. It’s one of the reasons I power through books so quickly. I read to stop myself thinking.”

Maggie’s despair is alive and raw. She’s angry, too. “I’m perfectly okay with admitting that,” she says. “I’ve sat with the anger long enough to know that it’s another form of grief. And some days I just feel so depressed with this awful weight in my heart and chest. I find it difficult to cry, but I wish I could – just to let it all out. It just builds and builds.”

Maggie, now a retired teacher, became a single mum to Ellie in 1989 when her husband left them. It was a tough time, she relates, made worse by the loss of both her parents soon afterwards. And Ellie could be “difficult”, she says, with certain attention-seeking behaviours coming to a head when she was 11 and starting high school after a move to the country. “She ran away and ended up living with her father and stepmother for a year,” she says, “but she hated it and asked to come back. From that time on, though, I felt I couldn’t say or do anything without her flying into a rage. I walked on eggshells.”

Maggie became addicted to alcohol as she struggled to cope with the end of her marriage and the loss of her parents. “Before long, I realised I’d become just like my own mum and dad. Nevertheless, I worked and was involved with Ellie’s school. I managed to preserve outward appearances, but Ellie saw the times when I was deep in my cups and I know she still feels bitter about that.” Maggie says she finally got her drinking under control in the mid-2000s.

By the time Ellie left school to study in the city, the pair shared a close amity, speaking daily on the phone. In 2009, they started looking for a small place for Ellie to buy and Maggie withdrew $50,000 – “what remained of my super” – to give to her to use as a deposit. Two years later, after selling her house in the country, Maggie gave her daughter a further $100,000, half the cost of the sale, to achieve a “granny-flat interest” in the unit Ellie had bought two years earlier with the gifted deposit money. (Centrelink allows people to transfer assets to another person in exchange for a right of occupancy for life in a residential property.) A couple of years later, Ellie married her long-time boyfriend, Ben*.

“I wanted them to be secure and have a good life, so I gave them everything I could,” says Maggie. “It was silly of me because it has left me in a very parlous financial situation. When I think about it, I realise I perhaps over-compensated for a pretty awful life we had in the early days. Maybe I thought by giving them this money, helping them out, I was saying sorry in the only way I knew how. I’ve broached the subject quietly with her over the years, told her I was sorry for my past sins, but we never went deeper than that. It’s my deepest regret.”

Unfortunately, Ellie and Ben put the second, larger sum of money towards the purchase of a bigger family home at the beginning of 2018, leaving her, as the tenant of Ellie’s original unit, to pay the mortgage on it. When Maggie wrote to them recently asking for a rent reduction, it was Ben who sent back a curt response: “My son-in-law said, ‘We’ll have to start thinking about selling the unit then.’ That’s when I decided to talk to a Senior Rights service. I’m now living with the threat of homelessness!”

Mother’s Day 2018 marked a miserable watershed. “Where in previous years there’d always been a cake, flowers and a card thanking me for always being a mum and a dad, suddenly there was nothing.” Since then, two Christmases and birthdays have also passed unmarked.

In July last year, she was surprised to receive an invitation to her grandson’s fourth birthday and, for a few hours, she felt happy again: “I can’t tell you how close he and I were,” she says. “I used to mind him two-and-a-half days a week when Ellie went back to work. We’d get all the pots and pans out and all the wooden spoons and we’d play music and sing. And we’d read his favourite book, Peepo! : ‘Here’s a little baby, one, two, three …’ These are my most precious and heart-breaking memories.” She pauses. “I wonder if he asks about me.”

Later, there were a couple of short, tense lunch dates with Ellie and the children at a local cafe. And then nothing. Every overture Maggie has made since has been met with the same rebuff: the family’s too busy to meet. “In early March, with all the COVID-19 stuff going on, I sent her a text via Messenger saying, ‘I’m thinking of you and hoping you’re all safe and well.’ I could see that she read it, but she never responded. They’ve never once reached out to see if I’m okay. That feels like a heavy thing in these times.”

Parent-adult child estrangement, characterised by a sustained physical or emotional distance, or both, is on the rise. Still a relatively young field of research, statistics aren’t easy to come by, but more and more therapists working in English-speaking countries report witnessing a new “silent epidemic” of inter-generational family dysfunction invading their waiting rooms.

Five years ago, a study of 561 later-life families in Massachusetts in the US conducted by Megan Gilligan, a sociologist at Iowa State University, found that one in 10 mothers reported being estranged from at least one of their children. Becca Bland, chief executive of Stand Alone, a British organisation that supports and advocates for people affected by family estrangement, suggests that the topic is currently getting more attention because of Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, who is alienated not only from most of her own family, but her royal in-laws, too. Writing in Grazia last year as the world’s press gorged on the cadaver of Markle’s once-close relationship with her father, Thomas, Bland says: “For many thousands of us … the turmoil that Meghan faces isn’t unfamiliar. It is the everyday reality of our own families, amplified and publicised.”

Bland walked away from her own parents 12 years ago and felt so much shame about doing so that for ages she told people, including boyfriends, that her mum and dad had moved from the UK to Australia to explain their absence from her life.

“Being in touch with all these other people who are going through the exact same thing, well, it’s saved my sanity.”

Yet it seems that Hell reserves a special place of torment for those who are cast adrift, often for reasons they don’t fully comprehend, by the person they love most in the world: their own child. “I felt I didn’t have anyone to turn to,” says Maggie, her voice constricted. “One friend told me, ‘You’re always so negative! You could solve all of this with a phone call.’ Another said, ‘Oh, please don’t cry!’ People just can’t deal [with it] – and I understand that.” It wasn’t until she stumbled across a raft of resources for abandoned mothers, in particular a private Facebook group called Australian Alienated Grandparent Support Group, that she found comfort: “Being in touch with all these other people who are going through the exact same thing, well, it’s saved my sanity.”

Dr Kylie Agllias is Australia’s leading researcher in parent-adult child estrangement, a rupture that’s often hidden because of the high social expectations around parenting and family harmony. “Mothers, in particular, can feel that they’ve failed in their most important role if their child is no longer speaking to them,” says Agllias, a social worker and conjoint lecturer at the University of Newcastle.

“They often experience real judgment from their extended family and friends and perceive a broader judgment from a society that tells them that blood is thicker than water. There’s an assumption that they could repair the relationship if they just ‘tried a bit harder’. This is a loss that’s simply not recognised by society and, consequently, there are no rituals to mourn it.” In other words, when your child dies, everyone feels sympathy for you; when your child stops talking to you, everyone asks you what you did wrong.

Estranged fathers feel the pain just as keenly as mothers do, says Agllias, but experience less stigma and shame for the simple reason that men tend not to be asked about their children and grandchildren as often as women are; their grief is less exposed.

When an adult child estranges his or her parent (their average age, says Agllias, is 31), a single incident is rarely to blame. Rather, it follows a long period of emotional disconnection created by the slow accretion, year after year, of repeated hurts and grievances. It can take just one catalysing event to force a wellspring of previously suppressed anger to the surface – and the damage caused by the eruption can reverberate down families for generations.

“There’s often a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ moment,” agrees Agllias. “Parents can get stuck in the minor event that they perceive as causing the estrangement rather than the general deterioration of the relationship leading up to it.” This explains why they often have no clear understanding of what it is they’ve done wrong.

“There’s an assumption that they could repair the relationship if they just ‘tried a bit harder’. This is a loss that’s simply not recognised by society and, consequently, there are no rituals to mourn it.”

The differing perspectives are shown in twin studies published by Agllias in 2014 and 2015 in which she interviewed two unrelated groups: one of 25 mature-age estrangees and the other of 26 estranging adult children. Listing the reasons for their relationship breakdown, the children cite abuse – physical, sexual or emotional – poor parenting and betrayal. However, parents attributed their alienation to a choice their child had made between them and something or someone else; disparate values (perhaps relating to sexuality or gender identity); punishment for a perceived wrongdoing; and divorce.

Agllias’s participants also describe the awful emotional stamina that being estranged requires. At the same time as they feel physically cast out or pushed away by their child, they also feel emotionally drawn or pulled towards them, an exhausting seesaw that threatens their sanity. For some, the experience is cyclical: they hear nothing for months on end and then receive a phone call out of the blue, often asking for financial help. When the child goes to ground again, as often happens, the grieving begins again.

Carolyn*, 58, from Adelaide, says her daughter Rachel* chose her partner over her family. At first she was happy when Rachel introduced her new boyfriend to her parents and three siblings. He was a bit “rough around the edges”, Rachel told them, but she liked that about him.

“And he was,” says Carolyn. “You could tell he’d come from a family of hard knocks, which is no reason to dislike somebody. But over a few months, I could see he wasn’t right for her. He was tetchy, and could get angry very quickly.”

She worried for Rachel, then 30, who’d struggled with mental illness for much of her life. “As a teenager, she was anxious, didn’t like going into shops on her own,” says Carolyn. “I tried to get her to see someone, but she’s always been so suspicious of doctors. And she hated the psychiatrist I took her to see. She hides from the world, really. Our relationship could be fraught, but we always worked things out. As soon as this man came on the scene, though, she started to pull away from us, too.”

Her partner’s temper, often ignited by alcohol, became even more apparent when their son, Harry*, was born in December 2014. There were frightening episodes – like the night he came home drunk and drove into the back of Rachel’s car before catching her in a stranglehold and punching her. She was holding the baby at the time and he banged his head in the fracas. Rachel took out a protection order, banning her partner from entering the house they shared but, within weeks, was showing signs of relenting.

Shortly after Harry’s third birthday, Carolyn wrote a letter to Rachel, which she gave to her when she came to pick up the toddler from her mum’s house one afternoon. “I told her I was concerned,” says Carolyn quietly, her pale face illuminating my computer screen. “I told her Harry didn’t want to go back home to a dark house where the curtains were drawn all the time. He liked it here. I told her I wanted her to talk to someone about what was going on with her and Harry’s dad. It couldn’t go on. I told her she was loved very much, that I’d help her in whatever way I could and that if she didn’t want me to help her, I’d find someone else she could trust.”

One week later, Carolyn and her husband, Terry* (Rachel’s stepfather), received a letter from Rachel which they believed someone else helped her write, “because it didn’t sound like her”. In it, she told Carolyn to mind her own business – it was her life and she’d live it the way she saw fit. Carolyn was Harry’s grandmother, not his mother. She was having trouble disciplining him and it was her – Carolyn’s – fault. Later, in court documents, Rachel would accuse Carolyn of being a narcissist. It would be two-and-a-half years before Carolyn and Terry saw their daughter or their grandson again. By that stage, the man Rachel had chosen over her family would be in prison.

There have been many moments when Carolyn wondered whether she should ever have written that letter. But then she remembers a promise she made to a newborn baby. “I told Harry that I would always look out for him,” she says, delicately blowing her nose as her eyes fill with tears. “I made that promise because I think I knew that, at some point, it was all going to go pear-shaped.”

Carolyn says the estrangement feels like a living bereavement. “It does you in. And you can’t talk about something like this. People say, ‘You must be a bad mother; what did you do?’ And to be honest, you feel so fragile that you can’t deal with having to manage all that judgment against you. You’re already enough on the edge as it is.”

Little has been written about the way a child with a mental illness may increase the risk of estrangement, according to Dr Joshua Coleman, a California-based psychologist and author of Rules of Estrangement. “It creates many opportunities for mistakes and misunderstandings. Parents whose children are both estranged and suffer from mental illness live within layers upon layers of sadness, guilt, regret and grief.” He contends, though, that the breakdown of this family bond reflects a broader sweeping social change that has been under way for decades.

If the extended, multi-generational network that supported the family was the typical Western model during the 19th century, the smaller, more autonomous nuclear unit had become the embodiment of home-front harmony by the mid-20th. This new-found self-reliance brought with it a disengagement from institutions such as church, neighbourhood and community that had governed family practices for centuries and, in the vacuum, there arose a persistent focus on the individual’s needs and wants. With marriage no longer resembling a contractual obligation, the bonds grew more fragile and cracks started to appear in the foundations of the nuclear family.

“Now it’s the parent who seeks approval from the child – in large part because the relationship is likely to be the most enduring one the parent will have over the course of his or her lifetime.”

What followed were high divorce rates and the overturning of a basic tenet. “It used to be the child’s job to earn the parent’s respect,” Coleman says. “Now it’s the parent who seeks approval from the child – in large part because the relationship is likely to be the most enduring one the parent will have over the course of his or her lifetime. But nothing binds the parent to the child beyond the child wanting there to be a relationship. If that relationship, which now more closely resembles a friendship than a formal bond, ceases to feel good, it’s at a significantly higher risk of rupture.”

As a society, we’ve made the extended family extinct, yet still crave the connection it afforded. We search for it in a more finite source of emotional availability: our children. But that entitlement we feel to their availability is onerous to a generation that has grown up without a sense of familial responsibility.

If Millennials are, as some commentators suggest, the “therapy generation”, psychotherapy, warns Coleman, can actually widen inter-generational distance. Prior to the 1960s, he says, the aim of therapy was to encourage people to conform to the dictates of the time. Today, family members are often viewed as “facilitators of, or obstacles to, a fully realised life rather than necessary and forgivable features in an expectably imperfect existence”.

Complicating matters further is the fact that parents and adult kids aren’t speaking the same emotional language. When a parent says, “I don’t understand what I’ve done wrong”, it’s not because the child hasn’t told them, he goes on to explain: it’s because what they’ve been told doesn’t make sense to them in terms of how they think about the issues at stake. There’s a generational divide when it comes to interpreting what defines traumatising, abusive or neglectful behaviour. “A lot of my work is about teaching the parent to speak the same language as the adult child,” says Coleman, “because it’s typically the parent who seeks me out.”

Nick Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, agrees. Thanks to something he calls “concept creep”, a disciplinary spanking meted out by a frazzled dad in 1985 may be rebranded as a traumatising memory of physical abuse by his “woke”, therapy-going offspring who has his psychologist on speed dial. Concept creep, writes Haslam, “encapsulates our modern-day appetite for an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm”. The definition of trauma is broader and more subjective than ever before, it seems, and our default emotional atmosphere is indignation, fury, resentment. This has raised the question of whether Millennials lack the resilience of earlier generations, their sensitivity encapsulated in the rise of the derogatory term “snowflake”, which made an early appearance in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.

In recent times, Barack Obama has declared empathy to be one of modern society’s most worrying deficits. Anne, a Queensland wife and estranged mother, agrees. Talking about her sadness to ABC Radio Brisbane in 2018, she said: “We walk away from problems too easily. Perhaps we all need to learn to communicate better: count to 10 and have more empathy and understanding for each other.” But empathy, as many adult children who’ve learnt to live with a visceral sense of loss know, is a two-way street. For them, the decision to move into an uncertain space beyond their parents’ influence is rarely made in the heat of an adolescent meltdown: it’s a desperate, scrabbling act of emotional survival.

“We walk away from problems too easily. Perhaps we all need to learn to communicate better: count to 10 and have more empathy and understanding for each other.”

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Stand Alone’s Becca Bland, an only child, described the hurt and confusion she felt growing up with the knowledge that she had been an unwanted baby. “I was very much an accident,” said Bland, recalling her mother’s emotional distance. “My grandma, who was incredible, did a lot of the parenting.” When Bland, as a young adult, wrote a letter to her mother seeking a new direction for their relationship – “I’m the kind of person who articulates problems in the hope of solving them” – her mother made it clear that she had no interest in pursuing any kind of self-examination. Bland’s conflict-avoidant father was only too happy to fall in line with his wife. Bland sent an email to her parents every month for three years before finally abandoning any hope of reconciliation. “Now I can put my needs first rather than trying to fix things beyond my control. But, yes, I’m angry I didn’t get the mother I wanted.”

In an essay for the Arianna Huffington e-zine Thrive Global, published last year, Harriet Brown, the American author of Shadow Daughter: A Memoir of Estrangement, writes movingly of her decision to leave her parents’ house when she was a teenager and the judgment from aunts and uncles that followed. She was reminded that “you only get one mother” and “you’ll be sorry when she dies”. But Brown wondered, “Would I? … What I wanted to say was, ‘I’m sorry she’s so critical and mean. I’m sorry I spent so long feeling like a terrible person because she told me I was. I’m sorry I didn’t have a different mother.’ I wanted to say, ‘Her death won’t change a thing.’ ” Happily for Brown, history has not repeated itself: she enjoys a close, loving relationship with her two college-age daughters.

Estranged parents who are also grandparents carry a double burden. Not only are they deprived of the presence of their own child in their lives, but also their grandchildren. Rebecca*, from Orange in NSW, is 56, blonde and tanned with an open face and a ready smile. Her cheerfulness masks the horror of five years spent in family dispute resolution and federal court, trying to secure visitation rights to her two grandsons, who are six and five. Like them, she is a casualty of her adult son Oliver’s separation from his partner Chloe.

Oliver* and Chloe* were young when they met – she wasn’t yet 20 – but they quickly started a family. Rebecca’s first grandson was one year old and Chloe heavily pregnant with her second baby when Oliver confided in his mother that, after two years of trying, he couldn’t put up with his girlfriend’s controlling ways any longer. Not only had she forbidden him to remain in touch with any of his female friends on Facebook, she had banned him seeing or speaking to his parents and two younger siblings. And so Oliver would call Rebecca on his way to and from work, later deleting all evidence from his phone.

When the couple eventually separated, mediation proved pointless. Chloe refused Oliver’s request for supervised access to his two small sons and, in turn, launched a barrage of allegations about him that later court proceedings would show to be false. Chloe’s psychiatric evaluation suggested Cluster A and B personality disorders with narcissistic tendencies. “She had estranged her own parents when we first met her,” Rebecca tells me, “and I was worried about that at the time. She invited them back on the scene when she was pregnant with our first grandson, though, and that’s when she cut us off.”

Oliver and Rebecca have separately fought for and been granted visitation rights to the children. For a while, the arrangement appeared to be working but the minute the prospect of the children staying overnight, either with their father or paternal grandparents, arises, Chloe fails to keep her appointment to hand them over. “We’re meant to have them every second weekend,” says Rebecca, “but she won’t turn up. We haven’t seen them in almost a year now. It’s devastating. The hardest thing is when I see pictures of my sister taking her granddaughter shopping. I want to be able to do that, too. And we’re obviously very concerned about their welfare.”

Another court appearance is scheduled in a month. “It’s draining, emotionally and financially,” says Rebecca. So far, mother and son have spent $175,000. “You do what you have to do,” she says. “We were lucky to have some assets that we could start selling off.” She mentions a 1962 Mercedes-Benz Fintail – her husband’s pride and joy – and “a couple of horses and some cattle” from their farm. But there’s still no end in sight to the struggle.

“I’d love to be able to see the grandchildren and not have any issues with their mum or her parents but whether that will come to pass, I don’t know,” says Rebecca. “I try to remain positive. Maybe when the boys are older, we’ll be able to reconnect.”

Sandra Kelly is a consultant solicitor with Caboolture Law in Queensland, a battle-weary gladiator in the bloody arena of family law. “Family law proceedings aren’t for the faint of heart,” she warns. “You need to put your big-girl shoes on and have very deep pockets. Because of the rise in drug and alcohol abuse, I’m seeing more and more grandparents applying to the federal court circuit, whether it’s for a ‘spend time with’ order or a ‘live with’ order.”

Still, going to court should always be a last resort, she says. “It’s aggressive and expensive. I’ve had matters that have gone to $90,000 to $100,000 in fees over five years. People have to re-mortgage their homes. And it’s terrible for family relationships.”

All troubled families headed for litigation are obliged to try dispute resolution first. Kelly recommends engaging a private family dispute practitioner, preferably one who’s a lawyer or a barrister, since they’re expert in bringing all parties, even reluctant ones, to the table. In an ideal scenario, agreement will be brokered at this stage and the matter will go no further. But of course, all too often, it’s simply not enough.

At the beginning of this year, the Department of Child Protection found that there was significant risk of harm to Carolyn’s grandson Harry if he remained alone in his mother’s care. “They asked me if I would take him and I said yes,” says Carolyn. “They went and picked him up and brought him straight here. They knew he had a bedroom here and could walk straight in and be with family.” She adds sadly, “It was an awful day.”

With the court case she was pursuing to gain access to Harry now halted (Carolyn has already spent $10,000 of her super), authorities are looking at the possibility of Carolyn and Rachel being able to share Harry’s care under a reunification plan. Even though she hasn’t seen Rachel outside of a courtroom in nearly three years, Carolyn wants to give her daughter the opportunity to be there for her son – with all the necessary support in place that would take.

Meanwhile, she and Terry have become full-time carers to an energetic five-year-old. “We’re tired, but we love him very dearly and he enriches our life,” says Carolyn. “We’ll parent him for as long as we’re needed.” She likes to look at two photographs of Harry taken just months apart that show just how far he’s come this year. In the first, he’s hesitant and waif-like with dark circles under his eyes and looks uncertainly into the camera. In the second, he’s smiling with a confident gaze, his complexion rosy. “They say he’s ‘globally delayed’, ” says Carolyn, “which is a fancy way of saying he’s behind for his age but he’s already started to catch up. He’s bright and I’m not saying that because I’m his grandma.”

Three years ago, Rebecca in Orange in NSW opened a contact centre, a neutral space where parents who are navigating a difficult separation and don’t live with their children can spend safe, supervised time with them. Her company is currently helping about 30 families, six of them grandparents who are wanting to see their grandchildren. “I’ve had nights where I’ve cried myself to sleep but running this, being part of a solution, really helps,” she says. “Without us, a lot of our clients wouldn’t be able to see their children or grandchildren before going to trial, which could be a three-or four-year wait.”

And what of other parents foundering in the exhausting push-and-pull tides of estrangement, never quite able to attain closure while the possibility of reconciliation exists? How do they find their lifeline? Californian psychologist Joshua Coleman, who’s frank about the process he used to reconnect with his own estranged adult daughter after he remarried following a divorce from her mother, suggests emailing a “letter of amends” to the lost child. “The goal is to not create defensiveness,” he says. “As soon as you do that, the game’s over. Instead, find the kernel of truth in their accusation – and acknowledge it. Try not to explain. Don’t blame. Empathise.”

“The goal is to not create defensiveness. As soon as you do that, the game’s over. Instead, find the kernel of truth in their accusation – and acknowledge it. Try not to explain. Don’t blame. Empathise.”

Wait for six weeks, he says. If nothing comes back, send a follow up. Don’t assume that the door is closed forever – or, at least, not until a legal communication removes all doubt or your own sense of self-preservation tells you to bow out.

But what if you feel so hurt you just can’t stomach eating humble pie? “Get your anger handled before you reach out to your son or daughter,” he urges. “Call a friend. Write a furious letter to your child – and then burn it. Work out. Meditate. Just don’t get into it with them.” Remember that the adult child will always have more power to set the terms of the relationship because they’re more willing to walk away, he says.

Meanwhile, Maggie in Sydney continues to torment herself about a missed opportunity to make peace with her daughter Ellie. “She and I were in the car after my grandson’s birthday party last winter. She was driving me to the railway station for me to catch a train home when she said, ‘I know I was a difficult child, Mum.’

“Looking back, I realise I didn’t take the opportunity to say, ‘Well, I was a pretty difficult parent, too, at times.’ Now it’s gone. I dream about being back in my grandchildren’s lives, but I don’t see it happening. I just don’t know if I have it in me to ever trust her again.”

* Names have been changed.

What Is The Divorce Rate In Australia?


Thanks to social media, it feels like love is back in a big way for our generation, with our feeds constantly flooded with engagements, weddings and babies it seems like maybe we’ll be the ones to break the divorce rates that get such a bad wrap. But what of the other end of the scale? No one (apart from the Celebrity and Hollywood types), are posting on social media about the breakups or the divorces, so where do the stats actually stand these days?

While of course we all go into a relationship or marriage with the best intentions, the reality is, for some, things change. And for years now, we’ve been led to believe that the divorce rate is going up, that half (or more) of all marriages will end up in divorce and that our love lives are in a state of crisis. But is this really true? How many marriages actually end up in divorce and how long is the average marriage before divorce these days?

What is the current divorce rate in Australia?

The Australian Institute of Family studies reports that the divorce rate (divorces per 1,000 Australian residents) has fallen in the 2000s and was at its lowest rate since 1976 in 2016 at just 1.9.

Divorce Rates in AustraliaDivorce rates rose in the 1960s and 1970s and peaked at 4.6 per after the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975, which allowed no-fault divorce.

According to the Australian Bureau Of Statistics (ABS) most recent study, there were 49,032 divorces granted in 2017 (and 112,954 marriages) which was up 5.2% from the previous year so the rate has risen slightly.
Queensland has the highest crude divorce rate with 2.3 divorces per 1,000 estimated resident population, while the Northern Territory had the lowest at 1.6.
What age are people getting divorced?

In 2017 the median age for men was 45.5 years and for women was 42.9.

What is the average duration of a marriage before divorce?

According to the data, the average length of a marriage before it ends in divorce is 12.0 years.

Have the changes to the same-sex marriage laws in Australia affected the divorce rates?

After amendments to the Marriage Act 1961 came into effect on the 9 December 2017 which enabled= same-sex couples to legally marry in Australia 3,149 same-sex weddings were held in Australia (as at 30 June 2018). While data is not yet available on divorce rates for same-sex marriage, the first same-sex divorce was reported in Western Australia in December 2017.

A couple who married in 2015 at a consulate in Perth under the laws of a European country where same-sex marriage was already legal, reported ABC at the time. The couple faced difficulty obtaining a divorce preceeding the amendments to Australia’s marriage act, however, after the changes their union became officially recognised in Australia – and therefore so to their eligibility for divorce.

Same-sex couples are eligible for divorce the same as any other couple under the new laws.

Family Law judge accused of deleting his threats from decision

 Judge Salvatore Vasta

Judge Salvatore Vasta

A Federal Circuit Court judge removed a threat to imprison parents who did not follow his family law orders when he released a written version of his oral decision, an appeal court has found.

The decision has renewed calls for a federal judicial watchdog to investigate complaints against judges at arm’s length from the courts.

In the latest decision criticising the conduct of Judge Salvatore Vasta, the Full Court of the Family Court said the judge engaged in “impermissible editing” by failing to include the threat made on February 6 last year when he published a written decision on April 29.

Judge Vasta “could not amend his oral reasons as he did”, the court said.

In the period between the decisions, Judge Vasta was found in a separate appeal decision to have behaved inappropriately by making a similar threat. The court in that case said his comments reflected either a “misunderstanding” of the law or an attempt to “bully” a party in court.

There appeared to be a “nexus” between the criticisms made of the judge in the earlier case “and the threat of imprisonment being edited out” in the later decision, the full court said.

In this case, Judge Vasta told the parents of three children that “unlike orders that some other judges make”, and unless there were “very good reasons” or other factors, “there really is only one place that people go if they breach my order”.

It was a place “where they will get at least [three] square meals a day, but there is not much else to recommend it”, Judge Vasta said.

Those comments did not appear in the written decision.

The full court said it “regret[ted] needing to do so” but it repeated what it said in the previous case, and another case involving Judge Vasta, “about the inappropriateness of judges speaking to litigants in these terms”.

The father in the case succeeded on other grounds in having Judge Vasta’s orders overturned and the matter remitted for rehearing by a different judge.

Judge Vasta courted controversy last year after he jailed a father of two for a maximum of 12 months for contempt of court. He was blasted by the Full Court of the Family Court for committing a “gross miscarriage of justice”.

NSW has an independent Judicial Commission to investigate complaints about state-based judges and magistrates, but there is no federal equivalent.

Complaints about federal judges must be made to the court, and may then be referred to the Attorney-General.

Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said “it is essential to the protection of the rule of law that there be a strong and independent judiciary” that was separate to and not subject to review by the executive arm of government.

Complaints against the federal judiciary should be dealt with “separately in a stand-alone federal judicial commission established by a separate act of Parliament, possibly based on the model operating in NSW”, Ms Wright said.

What are Muslim women’s options in religious divorce?

Muslim women value their membership within their religious community; making them aware of the various options they can access to gain a religious divorce is an important way they can claim their religious rights and freedom.

Muslim women value their membership within their religious community; making them aware of the various options they can access to gain a religious divorce is an important way they can claim their religious rights and freedom. (Samere Fahim Photography / Getty Images)

Both Muslim men and women are allowed to divorce in the Islamic tradition. But community interpretations of Islamic laws mean that men are able to divorce their wives unilaterally, while women must secure their husband’s consent.

In Australia, there are instances where couples divorce under the civil process but the husband refuses to grant his wife access to a religious divorce by withholding his consent, effectively trapping her in a “limping” marriage situation. This means she is divorced under civil laws but still considered by her husband and community to be religiously married and unable to enter a new relationship.

Like other faith communities in Australia, Muslims are able to have a combined religious and civil marriage through a religious leader if they are also an authorised celebrant. When it comes to divorce, however, the civil and religious proceedings must be done separately — civil divorce through the Family Court, and religious divorce through community processes. Although the civil divorce is acknowledged by Muslims as the only legally recognised form of divorce in Australia, the religious divorce is important for its communal and symbolic significance, to ensure that the relationship entered into “in the eyes of God” is now dissolved according to Islamic laws.

It’s not just Muslim women who face difficulties in gaining a religious divorce alongside a civil divorce. Since 1992, there have been numerous submissions and recommendations from both Muslim and Jewish communities seeking solutions for women in “limping” marriages. The Australian Law Reform Commission produced a report regarding this predicament in 1992, followed by Family Law Council reports in 1998 and again in 2001. The main recommendation involved minor legislative changes to remove the barrier to remarriage faced by these women — essentially involving the withholding of a decree absolute until the religious divorce was effected. But the Attorney-General’s office was not convinced that the proposed legislative changes would provide the best solution.

Muslim and Jewish women’s advocacy groups also expressed concerns that such proposals would mean recalcitrant husbands who are not interested in a civil divorce could prevent their wives from receiving either a religious or a civil divorce. Another concern is that husbands will seek to delay or prevent their wives from accessing a civil divorce by insisting that they go through a community process first.

Many of the submissions regarding Islamic divorce stated that women in “limping” marriages are not completely divorced until they gain a religious divorce through community processes, even when they have undergone a civil divorce. My research on Muslim women’s experiences of religious divorce found this approach restricts the avenues by which Muslim women can secure a religious divorce, and doesn’t consider other options available under Islamic laws that a woman can be free of an unwanted marriage.

What I found troubling about this approach was that all Muslim women were positioned as passive subjects that needed to be saved from their “limping” marriage situation rather than as active instigators seeking justice for themselves. In my own family and among many of my friends, I have witnessed numerous instances of Muslim women who married and divorced, in some cases multiple times.

The phrase “not ‘completely’ divorced” in the title of my book does not imply my agreement that all Muslim women are trapped in “limping” marriages — rather, it serves to highlight the dilemma in which Muslim women find themselves. At many levels, from families to friends to community groups to religious authorities, women are told that they are not “completely” divorced unless they have a definitive religious divorce. But how do they decide what is definitive to them?

The purpose of my research, therefore, was to explore and understand how Muslim women in Australia go about determining for themselves what constitutes a “complete” divorce, and how they navigated the challenges faced along the way.

Multiple options for women to divorce

Despite Muslim community perceptions that under Islamic laws women can only divorce with their husband’s consent or by means of community processes, there are in fact multiple options available by which Muslim women in Australia can secure a religious divorce. Derived from the primary religious texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah (sayings and teachings of Prophet Muhammad) and formulated by Muslim male jurists into religious rulings by the twelfth century (six centuries after the introduction of Islam), they have become codified in many contemporary Muslim countries through case law or legislation.

Men can initiate divorce through talaq — which is no-fault — and they do not need the wife’s consent. According to Muslim jurists, this form of divorce is extra-judicial, in that they do not need to declare it before a religious authority. In order to manage registration of marriages and divorces, however, most Muslim countries now require men divorcing through talaq to notify the court.

Is the husband’s consent necessary?

Women are able to initiate divorce through the process of khul‘. This is a form of no-fault divorce referred to in the Qur’an and Sunnah where the husband’s consent was not stated to be required. In these primary texts, the wife is granted the ability to divorce her husband for the simple reason of incompatibility, and there are records of women at the time of the Prophet who married and divorced numerous times. There are also reports of women who married the Prophet but then changed their mind on the wedding night and he granted them divorce without seeking cause.

Over time, however, the majority of Muslim male jurists determined that the husband’s consent was necessary, and most Muslim countries today still adopt these twelfth-century rulings. Interestingly, case law in Pakistan (1967) and legislation in Egypt (2000) returned to the Prophetic practice whereby the husband’s consent was not needed.

If the husband is at fault, women can also initiate a judicial divorce through faskhtafriq or ta‘liq — whereby in Muslim countries they present their case and prove certain grounds before a court judge. Because this form of divorce does not require the husband’s consent, this is usually the main option women take when they are not successful with khul‘. Given there are no such courts in Australia, Muslim women seek out divorce through community processes involving imams.

Many imams or religious leaders in Australia prefer the husband to pronounce talaq or give their consent to a khul‘, so that they are not responsible for ending the marriage, but in extreme cases of domestic violence they will award women this form of divorce. However, as reported by the ABC in a series of investigations across various religious communities in 2018, a number of Muslim women experiencing domestic violence faced numerous challenges seeking religious divorce from imams. This was in part due to imams having narrow interpretations as to what constituted “domestic violence” and requiring meetings with both the husband and wife present in the same place.

In my research, as well as that of others, imams and community leaders are becoming aware of the dangers presented to women experiencing domestic violence and are working with specialist services to make the religious divorce a safer process for women.

Another option for divorce is that women can specify in their marriage contract her right to divorce through talaq at-tafwid, whereby the husband grants his right of talaq to his wife through delegation so that she can initiate divorce without needing his consent. Contrary to common belief among many Muslims, he still maintains his right of talaq. Given the sensitive nature of mentioning divorce at the time of marriage, many Muslim women are discouraged by their families from including it in their contract for fear that they are seen as not committing to the marriage long-term. There is a long tradition of talaq at-tafwid in countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, but it is largely unknown and not commonly practised in many other Muslim countries and communities, including in Australia.

What options do Muslim women in Australia have?

The women I interviewed for my research were aware of their rights to khul‘ and divorce through imams, but not many had heard of talaq at-tafwid. However, it didn’t prevent them seeking out other ways in which they could be “completely” divorced by using their civil divorce decree.

Some women who were married overseas started proceedings in religious courts and were able to get a divorce through the system overseas with the help of family members.

“Iman” (all women’s names have been changed here to protect their identity) applied for and received a civil divorce and sent it to her home country of Algeria, because it was accepted as legitimate. She considered their recognition of the Australian civil divorce and subsequent registration as divorced under Algerian laws as a “complete” divorce without needing to engage Muslim community processes for a religious divorce.

Other women who had sought religious divorce through community processes and had been unsuccessful decided that their civil divorce sufficed as a “complete” divorce. “Aisha” felt that the imams were not completely aware of her situation when they refused to grant her a divorce without her husband’s consent, and that she was entitled to one — so once she had gained her civil divorce she felt certain that it was sufficient “in the eyes of God” because her marriage was effectively over and she was legally divorced.

This reflects a ruling issued in 2002 by the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), a body of contemporary Muslim jurists who offer new interpretations of Islamic laws specifically for Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim countries. This ruling or fatwa declared that Muslims who conduct their marriage according to a country’s laws should also comply with the rulings of a non-Muslim judge in the event of divorce. According to the ECFR, a civil divorce can and should be considered as sufficient for a Muslim to have a “complete” divorce. Indeed, in Britain some community processes such as the Fiqh Council of Birmingham have adopted this approach to streamline the many religious divorce requests from women.

My research illustrates that improving Muslim women’s access to religious divorce in Australia requires addressing particular social norms and interpretations of juristic rulings that exist among many Muslim communities in Australia, to ensure that just and equitable outcomes are achieved. The Muslim women I interviewed were able to define their own parameters of a “complete” divorce due to their own determination and resilience, and awareness of how civil divorce can be used to gain religious divorce.

While current Muslim community processes are not always easy to navigate, the research shows that Muslim women value their membership within their religious community. Making women aware of the various options they can access to gain a religious divorce is thus an important way they can claim their religious rights and freedom.

Dr Anisa Buckley is a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney. She is the author of Not ‘Completely’ Divorced: Muslim Women in Australia Navigating Muslim Family Laws.

My divorce came OUT OF THE BLUE!

Screaming-woman“I’d be lying if I said I saw it coming,” says Emma*. “We were busy parents and professionals. We didn’t really argue. There were ups and downs, but nothing that said ‘unhappy’.”

It was Boxing Day, after what Emma thought had been the perfect Christmas, when her husband turned to her and announced he was leaving. She was 39, they’d been together since they were teenagers and they had a nine-year-old son. He told her, “I can’t do this any more,” and admitted that there was someone else.

It was the first time Emma’s husband had ever said anything like that. She thought it was a “blip”, that he was having some sort of “mad moment”, so for a few days she kept quiet thinking they’d work it out. But by New Year’s Day, he had gone.

The aftermath, says Emma, was brutal. Her husband barely talked to her. “I felt as if the person I knew had died. And the person I subsequently dealt with was someone else.”

Telling her son and seeing him run out of the room sobbing was, she says, the worst moment of her life. “Like me, he had absolutely no idea this was coming. And why should he?”

Emma took many years to get over her husband’s sudden exit. She went from having a packed family life to spending every other weekend on her own while her son stayed with his father and his new girlfriend. She wondered who she had been married to, how she could not have known, if there had been any signs.

Looking back, she believes she did see a change in her husband. He had seemed “distracted and worried” and she noticed “odd behaviours”, like the time she rang him at work to be told he’d gone home not feeling well. “I thought, ‘That’s weird. I’m at home.’ ”

When Emma’s husband eventually came home that evening he said he’d gone to the cinema because he was fed up at work. But at the time she didn’t suspect him of having an affair, or ever think that he was about to walk out on her with no warning.

According to Lyn Ayrton, managing partner of a UK firm of family-law experts, “Meeting someone new and starting an affair is often a catalyst for walking out on a long-term partner. And with access to social media, having an affair has never been easier.”

She has noticed a pattern in the way men and women walk out of long-term relationships: typically men say nothing until the last minute, while women claim they’ve said it all but have never been listened to.

Usually, when a marriage fails, both partners can see the end coming, because it follows a fair bit of talking, fighting and arguing. They are braced for separation, even if it’s not what they want. But a decision by one person out of the blue is harder.

“Our brains don’t process sudden traumatic events in the same way they cope with more natural ones, making it more difficult to adjust to the new situation,” says clinical psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin. “There’s no opportunity to make things better, so an individual is left powerless and helpless, which is likely to lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.”

And because of our increasingly busy lives and reliance on digital communicating rather than in person, it’s never been easier to exit a relationship in this way, she adds.

“Much as the trend of ‘ghosting’ [when one person simply disappears from the relationship, rather than officially breaking up] is rapidly on the rise among younger people, so is the equivalent in older couples,” says Dr Angharad Rudkin. “Just walking away is simpler than facing the music, taking responsibility and finding words for difficult feelings.”

A gender-based difference with no-warning divorces is common, according to Ammanda Major, head of clinical practice at UK relationship counselling service Relate. She says men sometimes leave having never shared their thoughts with their partner for fear of the emotional upset it will cause. They will have the conversation with themselves until they reach breaking point.

“The abandoned partner may well say they never knew. But in some cases there was nothing to know because nothing was said, the rituals of family life were adhered to and the physical side of their relationship didn’t change.”

Tom* had been with his wife Nicky* for 10 years and married for 18 months when he walked out on her and her 16-year-old daughter. One night, Tom went to a friend’s house after work and phoned Nicky to say, “When you get home I won’t be there and I’m really sorry, but I just can’t do this any more. I’ve moved out.”

Nicky had no idea this was coming. The marriage had been Tom’s idea. He admits that there were always issues – “the missing part of the jigsaw” – that he thought marriage would sort. Instead, it only exacerbated their differences and he became increasingly afraid of his wife’s angry outbursts.

“We often argued, but with a busy life you skirt around the key issues; the most important things are ignored.” He describes their marriage as “hollow”, lacking any intimacy.

“At the time I had this complete sense of dread and helplessness, of powerlessness, that there was nothing to live for,” he says. “I felt I was suffocating and I kept thinking, ‘How did I get myself into this situation? It’s impossible to get out of.’ “

Tom never mentioned his unhappiness to his wife. He felt he could deal with it – until it became too much and he saw leaving as the only solution. He didn’t discuss the decision with Nicky: “Women can talk you around. In a weaker moment, I would have been shoehorned back in.”

Ammanda Major points out that when it’s the woman who’s unhappy, she usually says that she has attempted to talk to her partner about the relationship, but none of it hits home. “Then the crunch time comes, when she says she’s been telling him for years and he replies, ‘I didn’t think you meant it.’ ”

What Sarah* remembers most about walking out of her family home was how calm she felt seeing her husband Ian* curled up on the floor crying. “I had a remarkable lack of pity for him. I thought, ‘I should feel really sorry for this man, he’s so broken.’ But I didn’t.”

And it was Sarah, not Ian, who had been unfaithful. He was, she admits, a caring, attentive father whose successful law practice allowed her to work part-time after their children were born. Weekends were packed with ferrying two young daughters between music and ballet lessons and raucous dinner parties with friends.

Yet “crazy joy” is what Sarah felt on leaving her husband and their seemingly perfect married life. She uses strong words – relief, freedom, euphoria – and says it’s the best decision she has ever made.

For Ian, it came out of the blue – and hit hard. He couldn’t sleep or eat, it affected his work, and he only managed to function again with the help of counselling and friends. What is especially confusing is that both he and his former wife are articulate and people-oriented; popular at work and the school gate; described as warm and understanding by their friends.

Sarah points to the equilibrium of their relationship changing after their daughters were born, and feeling marginalised by Ian putting them first. She says he became very controlling and she grew increasingly frightened of him. They started avoiding each other, and surrounding themselves with friends and family at weekends.

“In retrospect I didn’t say as much to Ian about being unhappy as I should have,” says Sarah. “I had tried, but he was very difficult to talk to and very confident in his own views, and I wasn’t. He knew I was going to marriage-guidance counselling but it was as if I was talking rubbish.

“He believed we were married for ever. He didn’t believe me until I literally said, ‘I’m going.'”

Of course, many of these sudden “heart attack” endings that seemingly come out of nowhere are actually years in the making.

Relationship therapists point out that we are all effective at blocking what we don’t want to hear. A husband may try to talk to his wife about his unhappiness, but if she doesn’t want to listen she may divert the conversation. If a man doesn’t want to hear issues about his relationship he may close down the conversation by becoming angry and aggressive. And then it all blows up.

Research shows that successful relationships are not based on how few arguments you engage in but the number of positive interactions you have with your partner each day. Boosting intimacy is more important for relationship satisfaction than avoiding conflict.

For Emma and her husband, avoiding disagreements may have stopped them arguing in front of their family on Christmas Day, but it didn’t make their marriage last. Emma can now see just how much effort she and her ex-husband put into dodging the lie they were living: hiding behind their laptops in different rooms at home; organising their work around childcare and not around being together; socialising in a group, never as a couple.

“He said to me, ‘You’ll be relieved that I’ve done this,’ and 15 years on, I am. If he was unhappy and I couldn’t see it, we’d still be together and feeling like that. I much prefer my life now.”

 * Names have been changed.

THREE polyamorous divorcees fight over same luxury home

polyamorous-property-dispute-nzThree people from a polyamorous relationship are in a batle over how to split a valuable Auckland property after they broke up.

The New Zealand High Court ruled that the country’s Property Relationships Act (PRA) could not be applied to people in a multi-partner relationship.

The judge in the case, Justice Anne Hinton, also said the New Zealand Family Court could not “stretch” the law to accommodate a three-way relationship, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The case relates to a couple, Lilach and Brett Paul, who married in 1993.

In 1999, Lilach met Fiona Mead and in 2002 the three of them formed a polyamorous relationship.

They moved into a four-hectare property in affluent Kumeu, northwest of Auckland, which had just been purchased in Ms Mead’s name for $NZ533,000 ($497,000). She paid the deposit of $NZ40,000 ($37,000).

They lived together at the property for 15 years, and mostly shared the same room and bed, the court ruling said.

Ms Mead worked as a vet, Brett set up a paintball business on the property, Lilach worked as an artist, and Lilach and Brett had a lawn-mowing business. They all contributed to the household, though they dispute how much each contributed.

In 2017, Lilach separated from Mead and Brett. Brett and Mead then broke up in early 2018. Mead kept living at the Kumeu property, which was now worth $NZ2.1 million ($1.96 million).

Lilach applied to the New Zealand Family Court last year to determine each parties’ shares in the property, and said she was seeking a third of the home. The New Zealand Family Court referred the case to the New Zealand High Court.

In a ruling published on Friday, the High Court said a polyamorous relationship could not be recognised under the law because all of the relationships covered by the PRA – marriage, civil union, de facto – were defined as being between two people.

The court also considered whether the relationship could be divided into three separate de facto relationships for the purposes of the law.

But because Ms Mead was a member of both relationships this would mean she was entitled to 50 per cent of the property while Lilach and Brett would get 25 per cent each. That was inconsistent with the law’s principles of equal sharing after a break-up, the court said.

“For all of the above reasons, not only does the Act on its face not apply to a polyamorous relationship such as the parties’, but it would be unworkable to stretch the legislation to ‘fit’ this case,” Justice Anne Hinton concluded.

She said reform of the kind required by the Paul-Mead case could only be done by parliament.

The court ruling noted that polyamorous couples had asked the Law Commission of New Zealand to recognise their relationships when it recently reviewed the law. Some submitters felt it could give them some legitimacy which they did not yet have in society.

The Law Commission said at the time that excluding multi-partner relationships – which were “functionally similar” to marriages, civil unions or de facto relationships – could be difficult to justify.

Polyamorous relationships could share many of the hallmarks of the more traditional couplings, including house-sharing, raising children together, financial dependence, and mutual commitment to a shared life, the commission said.

But it eventually recommended to Government that the PRA should continue to cover only intimate relationships between two people.

“Extending the regime to multi-partner relationships would be a fundamental shift in policy and should be considered within a broader context involving more extensive consultation about how family law should recognise and provide for adult relationships that do not fit the mould of an intimate relationship between two people.”

Property relationship lawyer Jeremy Sutton said the PRA had been updated in 2002 to include non-married couples, but had not yet adjusted to more modern relationships.

“A polyamorous relationship doesn’t fit within the definition of a marriage, civil union or de facto relationship,” he said.

“It’s a challenge in that respect because if more than two people could be in a de facto relationship it could be three or four or five.

“The law is trying to cater with two people who in a relationship – it just wasn’t a fit within the Act.”

Family Court issues warning to parents planning on exploiting COVID-19 situation

family-court-of-australia-coat-of-armsThe Chief Justice of the Family Court has a warning for any parent planning on abusing their custody situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There will be ramifications for people who don’t act reasonably, and don’t act in the spirit of orders,” Mr Will Alstergren QC told Tom Elliott.

“If they unreasonably withhold children, or they want to stop somebody from doing something they think will be unsafe for the child, they can file applications now electronically and they can have hearings electronically, with the court, we are open.”

He pleaded with parents to act “reasonably and sensibly” with their children during this trying period.

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