Jevons & Jevons 2014 FamCA 220
Dispute involved three children aged 17, 16 and 13 years. Two older girls lived with the mother and the younger child had lived with the father for about a year. The judge found that the father was profoundly aggrieved by the outcome of an earlier consent agreement in two respects: he was resentful about the division of property that saw a higher percentage distributed to the mother; and he felt deeply dissatisfied with an arrangement that saw him having less than equal shared time with the children. The father was scathingly critical of the mother, openly before the children. The judge found that the father did not pay child support and withheld finances from the mother both to punish her and to remind her of his resentment over the property settlement, but by doing this, he hurt his children (financial abuse).
The judge found that the father had adjusted his employment to ensure that he earned just under the limit for an assessment of child support, leaving the mother solely financially responsible for the children for the past nine years. The mother had confided to the children about the intimate details of the parties’ marriage and its breakdown (adult topics, intractable conflict). The judge found that the mother had attempted to justify the separation to her daughters and perhaps to vindicate herself in their eyes, but this immature conduct on her part had left the girls burdened about the reasons for their parents’ separation. The mother had overestimated the girls’ maturity and the child’s need to know.
The oldest teenager became caught up in the financial conflict between the parents, after being disappointed that funds were not spent on her priorities including glasses. The teenager quoted the father as saying that he had made four women pregnant after leaving the mother, leading to a disgust reaction in the child.
The second teenager began seeing a psychologist and had episodic bouts of distress, anxiety and unhappiness including self-harm.
The youngest child described the conflict between the parents as like a war in which everyone needs to be on one side or the other and it was not possible to be on both sides, or on neither side (high conflict couple). His sisters were on the mother’s side and he was on the father’s side.
For almost a year the youngest child had spent no time with his mother, and his older sisters had spent no time with their father (sibling relationship). The father quoted the younger child as declining to visit the mother to avoid the hours of lectures and guilt trips that he had received (reluctant to contact). The judge interpreted the father’s statement as leaving doubt about whether the father had made an active attempt to reassure the child, to reason with the child, and to comply with the orders. When asked how he would respond if the 13 year old said that he no longer wanted to see his mother, the father replied that he would ask the child why and if the child gave no reason then he would keep asking for a reason (parenting style rational). The judge found it worrying that the father would not say to the child, “this is what is happening” and ensure compliance. The judge looked for evidence that the father had remonstrated with the child or had explained that the father himself had an obligation to follow the agreed orders, or that there were benefits to seeing his siblings and mother (encourage meaningful relationship).
The judge found that the father’s actions suggested that the father regarded the Court orders as guidelines at most, and that the expressed wish of a teenage child took priority over both the orders and the views of the other parent.
Both girls stated that if they said something their father disagreed with, he would criticise and just keep on until they gave up (personality persistent). The consultant reported that while young children tolerate this persistent approach, adolescents commonly challenge the approach.
The judge found that the mother reacted with considerable emotional intensity to matters that upset her (personality emotionally volatile). The atmosphere in her household was regularly dramatic, with extended family members discussing events arising from the parties’ marriage in the presence of the children and sometimes directly to the children (adult topics).
The children perceived their step-father as interfering in their relationship with their mother by shutting down their arguments and discussions. The stepfather said he intervened when he considered the children had become disrespectful.
On reading the psychologist’s report the father reflected that he should have “shut up and listened” to the teenage children instead of joining in with his own negative statements. The judge found that a rift between one girl and her brother arose from the father’s critical attitude and behaviour with the children.
The judge found that all children had been exposed to emotional abuse by both of their parents.
The judge did not accept that the expressed wish of the younger child should simply be implemented, because the child had been exposed to parental conflict all of his life (child’s wishes). The judge ordered that the youngest child live with the mother and spend time with the father. Sole parental responsibility for all children was granted to the mother.