By Jane Libbis, Partner, Umbrella Family Law
There isn’t much that hasn’t been written about Shane Warne, both prior to and following his tragic passing in early March. You didn’t need to be a cricket fan to know of or have an opinion about the talented spin bowler and Aussie larrikin.
As a family lawyer, what has lingered with me is the example Warne set for fathers – particularly those who are navigating a separation or divorce.
These are five things Warnie can teach single dads about fatherhood.
Lesson #1 – Time should be negotiated, not left to chance
At his public memorial, Warne’s children shared heart wrenching tributes about their father. Whether it was playing Monopoly or dancing to Bryan Adams “with not a care in the world”, all three kids cherished the time they spent with their dad.
When couples separate, probably the most important thing fathers need to negotiate is for time with their children. Too often, fathers leave this to chance and then miss out because the flow of the week gets in the way.
When negotiating time, start with routine arrangements (such as during school term), school holidays, and special occasions (such as birthdays, Christmas and Easter). Then, think about the ‘insignificant’ time.
Many fathers prioritise work and life balance but underestimate the joy that additional and incidental time with their kids can bring. You might think every alternate weekend is fine without appreciating the importance of the insignificant moments – like the conversations that take place when you’re taking your child to sport or dropping your teenager off to their part-time job.
Parenting agreements, though never absolute, are morally anchoring. By putting a documented parenting plan or orders in place, there will be less opportunity for conflict and your kids will also know broadly how much time they will spend with each parent, and when.
Lesson #2 – Relationships can be repaired
The breakdown of a family can be very hard on children.
In conversation with Leigh Sales in 2019, Warne spoke candidly about his regrets and particularly the impact his mistakes and “silly choices” had had on his three children. Yet, despite the scandals, Warne was able to build strong relationships with his kids by owning his mistakes, being honest with them and saying sorry when he let them down.
“They [My kids] have forgiven me and they understand me. They want me to be happy. They also had to accept who I am… I’m proud of the kids they’ve become, and I’m proud of the father I’ve become.”
The reality is Australian women still spend vastly more time than men caring for children. As a consequence, when co-parenting arrangements are implemented, fathers are often far less experienced in, or knowledgeable about, the practicalities of childcare. It can be overwhelming and even gruelling.
If as a single dad you’re reluctant to ask your ex for advice or guidance about looking after the kids, understand there is other support available.
You might enrol in a post separation parenting course such as those offered by Relationships Australia to learn how to interact with your kids and help bring out the best in you as a father.
You could also build a community of people around you to offer advice, free from judgment or criticism. It could include your mum, sister, friend or neighbour.
And if all else fails, you can ask your kids, “How does mum do it?”.
Lesson #3 – Allow yourself to be vulnerable
When Shane Warne started dating actress and model Elizabeth Hurley, he embarked upon a period of self-discovery and self-improvement. He even saw a therapist.
Warne spoke openly about how he “wanted to be a better person because of the kids and Elizabeth”, and of his need to understand why certain things had happened.
“I encourage anyone if they have any issues whatsoever to see someone. It’s so important to go and talk to someone.”
Suppressing and avoiding emotions can be detrimental to mental health and it’s especially important for single fathers to allow themselves to be vulnerable. There’s no shame in asking for help. Family relationship centres, mediators, lawyers, and your GP can all point you in the right direction if you need someone to talk to. And don’t forget the power of a chat with a mate, too.
Lesson #4 – You may need outside help to resolve parenting conflict
In 2021, Warne was quoted by The Herald Sun as saying: “I always made their lunches, walked them to school, took them to sport… It was bloody hard – being a single parent is difficult, but fun too.”
Warne was spot on: being a single parent can be incredibly difficult and there will be times when you and your former partner will be at loggerheads about decisions that are meaningful, and others which might seem tedious.
Indeed, parental conflict can continue long after a divorce has been decreed and orders have been made. What’s important to know is there is help available and it doesn’t have to be adversarial.
Parenting coordination is a child centred dispute resolution process for separating, divorcing and divorced parents. With the aid of a parenting coordinator, co-parents can effectively resolve child-related disputes while reducing the conflict to which children are exposed.
Parenting coordination is relatively new in Australia but it’s gaining more awareness.
Lesson #5 – Milestones may have consequences
In November 2020, via Instagram, the cricket legend marked a special milestone when his youngest daughter graduated from high school.
“Wow. What a day!!! All three of my beautiful children have now completed year 12 which means no more school fees, drop offs, pick ups and fighting for a car park, parent teacher nights, sports all over Melbourne times three on weekends, school plays, events, making lunches, sports gear, blazers and being a taxi – oh and an ATM”, he joked.
While being exciting moments, milestones like finishing school or turning 18 also have family law consequences.
Parental support clauses typically include end dates (for example, to mark when children reach adulthood) and specify any other conditions which could trigger termination or adjustment of regular or scheduled payments.
If there is an assessment through a child support agency, the adjustment will happen automatically. If not, single dads should keep an eye on these events and seek advice if they think their child support agreement warrants a review.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jane Libbis is an experienced and compassionate family lawyer and a founding partner of Umbrella Family Law. She is passionate about helping people to navigate the legal, emotional and practical issues associated with family relationships. In 2021, Jane qualified as a parenting coordinator in Australia.