GENEVA (Reuters Life!) - A trickle of newly separated Swiss fathers looking for shelter and help after marital breakdown have been finding a warm bed and a sympathetic ear from a pilot project on the shores of Lake Zurich.
Protestant pastor Andreas Cabalzar has founded Switzerland's first shelter for newly separated fathers in the Swiss village of Erlenbach, not far from Geneva.
Unique in Switzerland, the project has seen the numbers of applications to stay in the house increasing every week.
"80 percent of the time it is the wife asking for a divorce and the children stay in the family home while the father leaves with his suitcases and becomes more vulnerable," Cabalzar told Reuters.
The project began in September 2009 when four men visited Cabalzar to ask for help after separating from their wives. After leaving home, the men initially needed temporary shelter and a place to reflect on their situations.
"At the first moment everybody needs a roof and a bed and no man is prepared for this step," Cabalzar told Reuters.
He said the problem pervades all sections of society and that he sees men from all walks of life hit by the problem.
"In such a reality people are suffering," he said.
Cabalzar offers the men a home as well as psychological and religious support if requested.
Guests pay around 170 Swiss Francs ($166) per week to stay. The house can welcome three newly separated fathers at a time. There are also two bedrooms set aside for children to help the fathers maintain contact with their children.
"No more than three newly separated fathers can stay as it gives a very good synergy. They speak and help each other, it makes a good self-help group," Cabalzar told Reuters.
Cabalzar is now looking at getting more houses. Some men stay a few days, others a few weeks but he makes sure that any stay is as short as possible.
A former equities trader, Cabalzar is seeking independent financing for more houses within his parish to help separated fathers to rebuild their lives while maintaining contact with their children in the early stages of family break-up.
"After two years of separation too many children do not have any contact with their fathers," Cabalzar told Reuters.
His goal is to make sure that they are no blockages and that the relationship with the parents stays as normal as possible.
He works closely with marriage councilors, lawyers and psychologists to keep an open dialogue between the parents and ensure an ongoing positive relationship between the father, the mother and the children.
"There is a commitment to the children and a reliable relationship must be kept. The children need to have a positive picture of their parents," he said.
Before his shelter project Cabalzar had worked with young and unemployed adults where he saw how important it is for children to have both parents around them.
After two years on this project he started to think of the problems around him and what marriage is in our society with a 50 percent divorce rate in the Zurich region.
He said the popular image of the nuclear family remains frozen in time, a nostalgic notion that has more in common with our grandparents' generation than the frenetic economic realities of the modern world where home life for both parents often takes a back seat to the demands of work.
"The image of work in our world does not seem to be compatible with the family life that our grandparents had."
Editing by Paul Casciato