File photo

Johannesburg - A High court judge told a Joburg businessman that because his child was a girl and only 3 years old, it was not appropriate for him to have “extensive contact” with her.

Instead, the child should live with her mother and he should have contact with his daughter only on alternate weekends.

The father, who argued in court that he was the child’s primary caregiver, has spent hundreds of thousands of rand fighting gender bias in a bid to be a parent to his child.

“Her primary attachment figure is me,” the dad says in court papers.

“She calls for me in the night and comes to me in the mornings for a cuddle.”

He told the Saturday Star this week: “I have spent all my available time in the past three years with her, mostly alone. But the judge said it was impossible to believe a mother of a 3-year-old girl would give her away and that in (the judge’s) experience a minor child belonged with her mother, and I could see my daughter only once a month.”

This was after both parents had agreed and signed off on a settlement for joint residence on a 50-50 basis.

On January 20, the North Gauteng High Court judge declared that “the minor child was a girl and should reside with her mother”.

“Joint residency is not in the minor’s child best interests in view of her age and the father should have contact with her on alternative weekends.”

After the couple agreed to file for divorce, his ex-wife secured a protection order against him that allowed him to see his daughter only with supervised access.

The order was later withdrawn.

He believed she was using their child as a “pawn” after the breakdown of their marriage.

“Not only was the basis for the protection order completely false, which my estranged wife later admitted, it was completely malicious and put me in a situation where I was allowed only supervised access to my child.”

The man was served with the order shortly after he returned from a three-week holiday with his daughter.

“I have cared for my daughter my entire life. I have never harmed her. I was insulted and took it very personally.

“My daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me. I changed my job, gave up my executive position in a company so I… could spend most of my time with her, giving her my undivided attention.

“In the past three years, I’ve literally done what a mother should be doing. If you look at the 1 068 days of my child’s existence, I took care of her emotional and physical needs for 80 percent of the time.”

In court papers, his estranged wife claims the man was always “working and gambling”, but he countered in his replying affidavit that this was malicious and untrue.

He revealed how his phone was always switched off when he got home, and he would answer it to do work only after his daughter had been put to bed at 8pm. According to the interim court-ordered parental plan, which the judge delivered on January 23, pending the outcome of an investigation begged for on an urgent basis, the child may stay with her father for two weekends a month and every alternate Saturday. He may also have daily telephonenic contact with the child.

“It is evident my child needs me desperately. In the past 63 days, I’ve had my child for about 40 days, mostly with sleepovers. If that’s not enough evidence I’m the primary caregiver, then I don’t know.”

The judge ordered the father to pay for an investigation by private individuals, a social worker and psychologist, regarding parental responsibilities and rights in the best interests of the child.

The father is awaiting this report, which has cost him a further R85 000. “That’s the stigma about being the father of a girl. I can’t accept it. I’ve made a conscious choice to challenge the system,” he said.

By the time his court battle is over, he expects to have spent close to a R1 million.

“If I’m not happy with the outcome of this investigation, I’m going to the Constitutional Court. I’ve been advised I’ve got a strong case. I’m fighting for myself and for my daughter. She is the most beautiful, special little girl.”

In 2011, dad Phillip Engelbrecht successfully applied to the high court for custody after the mother of his 2-year-old son walked out on them.

A group of fathers filed a multimillion-rand damages claim case against the Family Advocate’s office in Pretoria in 2012, saying they had been discriminated against because they were men. The group have been waiting for a court date for more than three years. “The Equality Court is supposed to bring swift justice,” one of the applicants said.

Steven Pretorius, founder of Fathers-4-Justice, said as more dads fought to secure their rights for greater parental access, there remained an “inherent gender bias against fathers” in raising children.

Kids scarred by high-conflict divorces or forced to grow up without dads “further suffer at the hands of institutions intended to safeguard (them)”. - Saturday Star