Seaver & Seaver 2015 FamCA 194
Parents of children aged 9 and 4 years separated. The father re-partnered. Soon after the mother reported that the children exhibited increased anxiety and the mother withheld the children. The mother demanded that the father participate in an anger management programme. The mother then alleged that the younger child had been subject to sexual abuse by the father. This allegation followed an incident when the child spoke to the mother in a distressed state after the father became angry. The child stated, “My wee wee is sore …” pointing to the urethra. The child settled soon after. The child had a history of urinary tract infection that was exacerbated by drinking fruit juice. The maternal grandmother later observed the child having its hands down the pants while relaxing watching TV and this information was passed to a mandatory reporter.
Both the mother and a school teacher completed a checklist of anxiety symptoms for the younger child, with the mother rating the child as being very anxious and the teacher rating the child as having a low level of anxiety.
The mother took the older child to a counsellor who declined a proposal to hold joint sessions involving the father and child. The counsellor allowed the mother to express her concerns in front of the child, and this was criticised by the judge.
The mother saw a therapist due to her anxiety and expressed disappointment that the father had stopped working on their marriage, and that she had been replaced by the stepmother. The mother had pervasive fears about what might occur during the father’s contacts.
The nature of the mother’s complaints became more severe as time went on. The mother focused on possible misconduct by the father and stepmother while the children were in their house. The judge found that the mother was more focused on obtaining proof of wrongdoing than on protecting the children (capacity to protect).
The mother sent emails to the father giving instructions or commands on topics including that the children were to remain 100% under the father’s supervision and not be left unattended (parenting style authoritarian).
Reports from an agency contact centre stated that a uniformly positive relationship existed between the children and the father.
The father acknowledged both flicking the older child on the head to gain attention, and using character words such as ‘wuss’ to describe the child. The father attended a parenting course and ceased these discipline practices. The judge found that smacking is a legal form of discipline, and that the father’s parenting capacity was competent.
The judge found that the father stated his views assertively, and that when the mother disagreed with his views she felt this was unjustified criticism and she complained of feeling controlled. The mother expected the father to support her views about topics including about his family. The children were exposed to angry arguments arising from this pattern. The judge found that the parenting styles differed between the couple, with the father being a more strict disciplinarian (parenting style authoritarian). The father agreed he yelled at one child for disobeying his instructions on a safety topic, and that he had compared his child to a stepchild.
The judge found that the mother had stated in her affidavit her concerns based on comments made by the children without consulting with the father, and that this was inadequate parental communication.
The family assessor considered the mother’s ability to manage her own emotions had been impaired for a considerable time, and that this led to disordered thought processes that warranted a professional assessment. The assessor considered that the mother showed no empathy for the children with an inability to take the perspective of others (parenting style emotional). The assessor noted that the mother accepted only what she had directly observed, dismissing statements from others with a remark, “That’s what they say” (personality suspicious).
The family assessor reported that the mother questioned the younger child daily about whether she was a victim of sexual abuse, and asked the child to recall incidents (interrogate). The judge found that this was emotional abuse.
The assessor found that the children had a warm attachment with both parents, however the children felt they had to hide their affection for their father from the mother. The mother objected to a proposal that the assessor observe interactions between the father and children while the mother was not present, on the grounds of her allegations of sexual abuse. The observations showed that the children behaved differently towards the father when the mother was not present.
The assessor found that the 9 year old child had an inappropriately protective attitude towards the mother (parentified).
The maternal grandparents showed emotional support for their daughter the mother, and this extended to believing every detail of the mother’s account without checking with the father. The judge found that this showed excessive loyalty towards the mother at the expense of the children.
The family assessor found that the stepmother was able to separate her own feelings arising from the mother’s criticisms of her from her understanding that the children needed to maintain a meaningful relationship with the mother (differentiate own/others emotions).
The assessor considered that the child’s counsellor was inexperienced and had aligned with the mother’s strong belief, and did not take an opportunity to check information with the father. The judge described the counsellor as a compliant counsellor.
The judge found that the mother’s parenting capacity to meet the needs of the children was severely reduced, and the mother lacked insight into the impact on the children of her persistent questioning about sexual abuse. There was an unacceptable risk of exposing the children to emotional harm.
The judge ordered that the children live with the father and have contact with the mother that was restricted and that would increase in a graduated approach. For three months the mother had no contact. This was followed by phone contact that was monitored by the father, and then by 12 months of contact that was supervised by an agency, and then by whole day contact. The judge granted leave for the mother to pass court documents to any therapist she chose to attend (confidential).