The South African branch of Fathers4Justice, a non-profit organisation campaigning for the rights of parents to have access to their children, wants to see the practice of almost always awarding custody to women changed.
Not all dads are bad, say caped crusaders
Source: This article was originally published on page 3 of The Cape Argus on August 01, 2005
The South African branch of Fathers4Justice, a non-profit organisation campaigning for the rights of parents to have access to their children, want to see the practice of almost always awarding custody to women changed.
Behind the mask lies a tragic tale of a broken family and this caped crusader is out to tell his story to anyone who will listen.
Dr Steven Pretorius dressed up as Batman on Friday and, with several costumed friends, staged a publicity stunt on the unfinished bridge overlooking Lower Buitengracht.
Pretorius had come from Pretoria where he heads the South African branch of Fathers4Justice, a non-profit organisation campaigning for the rights of parents to have access to their children.
He also has a personal stake in trying to change South African attitudes to access to children after divorce.
His wife moved from Cape Town to Pretoria after their divorce in 2003, taking their young daughter with her.
At first he commuted regularly, visiting his child every weekend, but his former wife started a new relationship and changed their shared parenting agreement.
“It worked until the lawyers got involved,” said Pretorius.
After she curtailed the amount of time he could spend with his daughter to a few hours during the week, he quit his successful Hout Bay practice and moved toPretoria.
“I was sitting around, just waiting for those few hours. Then I lost that access, too.”
While the initial split may have been fairly amicable, the relationship with his former wife has since turned acrimonious and Pretorius sees very little of his child these days.
“She now calls me uncle.”
Pretorius began Internet research about people in similar situations and joined a divorce support group to find a way to get access to his daughter.
“If you go through these problems, you get to know more people like you. One in two marriages in South Africa ends in divorce. Everyone has problems.”
With a few like-minded men, he decided to open a branch of Fathers4Justice in South Africa.
“We’re all paying hundreds of thousands in legal fees to gain access to our children. If you don’t have the money for a private attorney and advocate, you can’t get to the high court,” he said.
Pretorius believes one in 10 South African divorces end in a high court fight over who gets the children.
“What about the 90 percent that don’t make it to the high court? What percentage of dads is forced to give up because they don’t have the money to fight? What does the lack of a father figure to do those children?”
The organisation wants to commission research into South African divorce statistics to back up anecdotal evidence about the effects of custody battles on children.
“You can’t say all fathers are bad,” he said.
Pretorius firmly believes South Africa’s constitution and family laws support joint custody and already contain the legal aspects needed to make them fair to all parties involved.
“The nice thing is that we don’t have to change any laws. But the people practising family law in South Africa are biased and the outdated mindsets of people working in the family law system need to change,” he said.
He wants to see the practice of almost always awarding custody to women changed.
“The most effective way is to take it into the public domain and create public awareness,” he said.
Asked if media coverage of his own case would jeopardise his chances, Pretorius said he had nothing left to lose.
“I’ve lost my life in Cape Town. I had a wonderful home and my family is here. My ex-wife has threatened me with a defamation suit and financial ruin. What she doesn’t realise is that my life has already been destroyed.”
“I’ve already lost the most precious thing I could have – my daughter.”
“One day she’ll know that I did this all for her.”