Malaysiakini Letter

Law should protect single fathers too

A Single Father  |  Published:  |  Modified:

The recent 'Children Need Fathers' forum and various recent letters and articles in newspapers have lifted the gloom of many single fathers like myself. I am given little access to my toddler daughter since separation. However, I cherish every little time I have with her and am glad that there is now a special bond between myself and my daughter. I must say that society and certainly the law, are biased against men going through separation or divorce especially when a child is involved.

In spite of the many difficulties I have to go through, I still make the effort to spend time with my daughter. Maybe it is guilt of having to put my innocent daughter through this mess, but I know there is more because I still want to see my daughter take that first crawl, that first step and most of all to hear my daughter utter the word 'Daddy'. Somehow, all these has kept me wanting to spend whatever time I can with my daughter.

Our society has evolved from the yesteryears when men were the sole breadwinners and wives were dependent on husbands to provide for the family. In this day and age, it is not uncommon to have the wife earning more then the husbands. It is also not uncommon to see a father being able to singlehandedly take care of the kids. Unfortunately, upon divorce, the law clearly does not reflect this current situation. We hear of many cases where various parties are fighting for divorced women's right to penalise their ex-husbands if they do not pay alimony or maintenance.

This to the extent of deducting such payment from the ex-husbands' pay through their employers and to sending him to jail. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear of any party voicing out or fighting for a father's right to have trouble-free access to their children. No one from the ministry level to the NGOs has even given a thought to the emotional trauma single fathers face with their children being used as bargaining tools.

While is would be easy to prove that an ex-husband has not paid the alimony or maintenance via receipts, cheques, bank statements etc, it would certainly be a task to prove that the ex-wife has denied or made difficult access for the ex-husband to the child. Let's just say that the agreed day for the father to meet his children is on a Saturday. What happens if the mother deliberately arranges for the child's tuition to be on that day on the grounds that it is the only day available? Or that the mother and child conveniently go outstation on that day? Or an 'emergency' seems to always pop up on Saturdays? What can the father do?

And in worst case scenarios, what is the child's mind is poisoned to the point that the child hates the father? How can this be proved? What can the father do? The father would have little choice but to accept his fate quietly as taking drastic action would cause more trauma to the already traumatised child.

On one hand, I would like to applaud the Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development on their many efforts to promote family values. However, I am bothered that the word 'women' is part of the ministry's name. If gender equality is to prevail, shouldn't it be 'Ministry of Men, Women, Family and Community Development'? Or rather 'Ministry of Family and Community Development'?

Similarly, cases of separation or divorce, especially when children are involved, should not be about what is rightfully the mother's or the father's. It should really be about what would be the best solution for the children, mother and father. If the mother is not financially capable, then the law is right to having the father pay alimony or maintenance. If both are capable, then both parties should share the financial burden.

It may seem farfetched, but what if the ex-wife is more capable financially and for some valid reason the ex-husband is not? Also, custody should be awarded to the capable party with fair access to the other. If the mother makes it difficult or fails to grant access to the father, then there should be a mechanism to rectify this shortcoming just as how a mechanism should be in place if the father fails to pay alimony or maintenance.

I did not manage to attend the 'Children Need Fathers Too' forum and would be eager to know the outcome. I am heartened to note that single fathers' voices are being heard. However, I hope these efforts do not stop here. Having the voices heard is one thing. Having a mechanism in place to ensure fairness for all parties, more so for the often oppressed single father, is quite another.

I really do hope the relevant authorities and parties have these mechanisms in order. I sincerely look forward to the day when I can see my daughter regularly without worrying that when I come to fetch her, she is not there or worse still, my daughter suddenly chooses not to be there waiting for me.

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