Randall & Adams 2013 FMCAfam 5

Three children including twins aged 6 years and a 3 year old infant had always lived in the primary care of the mother.  The father worked rostered shift work and he was an untested primary carer.  The father alleged that the infant showed developmental problems that were attributable to the care provided by the mother, and applied for the children to live with him and that he have sole parental responsibility.

The father agreed that the mother provided good physical care but disputed her ability to care for the children’s emotional needs.  The father reported an instance that the mother disciplined one twin who bit the other twin by biting the first child.  The mother reported that the father had devoted time to building his career rather than with the children.  An assessing psychiatrist noted that the mother described herself as speaking bluntly, expressed her anger sternly, and that she had lowered mood, and showed signs of anxiety by some obsessional thinking and minor checking.  The father had four times complained of contraventions of Court orders by the mother, as the mother considered orders to be unfair.  The psychiatrist recommended psychological therapy for the mother (therapy for parent).

A consultant observed the infant with both parents, and noted that the infant initiated no contact with the mother, reflecting insecure avoidant attachment and suggesting that the mother was not emotionally available to the child.  The infant was observed as overly clingy with the father, reflecting anxious attachment due to the father’s intermittent contact with the child.  The father sat on the floor with the older children who joined him, and the father followed the children’s play (child initiated play).  The older children initiated affectionate contact with the father.  The consultant emphasised the importance of children developing secure attachments in the first 3 years of their lives.  The consultant observed that the infant was showing signs of delayed speech.  The consultant recommended that the children have consistent contact with their father.

Evidence was given that the mother had encouraged the children to call the father’s new partner ‘Daddy’s bitch’ (derogatory language) and that the mother had made appointments during the father’s time and then insisted that she be present at the appointments (parenting style domineering).

The judge found that it is in the interests of the children not to be forced to take sides in adult conflicts between their parents (align).   The judge found that the mother had consistently failed to facilitate a meaningful relationship between the children and their father, and the mother’s inability to reflect on herself inhibited her ability to meet the children’s emotional needs (capacity to reflect).  The judge noted that judicial interference in parenting should occur only where it is clear that the welfare of a child will be advanced by this action.  The judge accepted that the father had a greater child-focus than the mother.

The judge ordered that the children primarily live with the father and spend substantial and significant time with the mother.