Sutton & Anderson 2014 FamCA 215

The mother of a child aged 4 years at the time of the hearing had been subjected to intense and long term verbal abuse.  The mother applied to relocate to be with her extended family and to provide some relief from the emotional consequences of the father’s abuse of her, notwithstanding the detrimental impact on the relationship between the child and her father and sibling.

The judge found that when the father was informed that the mother was pregnant he turned on her and commenced a savage and relentless campaign of verbal abuse and threat which continued over more than a year, with the abuse escalating in intensity up to the birth of the child and following the birthday.  The abuse did not abate until a family violence order was made.

Paradoxically, the father had at times shown warmth and support to the mother (cycle of violence).

The mother recorded examples of abuse and threats from the father in a diary.   The father did not significantly dispute these facts.  The mother agreed that she had not been the subject of physical violence although she had seen the father being physically violent towards one daughter from another relationship and she understood that the father had a history of physical violence towards his previous intimate partners.  The mother said the father’s abuse had continued for a significant period of time despite the father having previously completed a Changing Abusive Behaviour Program (anger management).  The judge accepted the mother’s evidence as frank and reliable.

Evidence was given by three experts: the mother’s treating psychologist, a single expert and a family consultant (experts number of).

The mother’s treating clinical psychologist submitted a report giving a diagnosis that the mother had an Adjustment Disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.

The single expert opined that the emotional well-being of the mother as primary carer (given the history of family violence and its impact upon her), outweighed the impact of a diminution of the relationship between the father and another sibling.  The single expert did not observe the father interacting with the child.  The judge accepted the assessment by the single expert about the profound impact of the family violence upon the mother, while noting that it is the role of the judge to compare relative merits on two issues.

The family consultant gave evidence that sibling relationships are important as they teach children about sharing, playing and recovering from disagreements.  The family consultant gave evidence that telephone calls between the father and child would not be constructive as they would be stressful for the mother given the history of the relationship, the age of the child and the need for the mother to supervise or manage those calls.

A psychiatrist who saw the father on a therapeutic basis to discuss issues arising from the separation assessed the father as having Cluster B Personality Traits that affected his interpersonal functioning, but these fell short of being able to diagnose a personality disorder.  The judge noted that the psychiatrist had not seen either the mother or the child, so some recommendations were given no weight.

The judge found that the father had initially dismissed, deflected or diminished the allegations of abuse made against him.  The judge found that the father lacked insight into the impact of his violence upon the mother, and having regard to the expert evidence, he was at times self-focused rather than child focused.

The judge found that the mother was subjected to extraordinary emotional and verbal abuse and threats of violence.  The judge found that the father’s abuse had led to the collapse of trust between the couple, the mother having a genuine and ongoing fear of the father, serious and ongoing psychological and emotional harm to the mother, and the parties being unable to effectively and directly communicate about their child.

The mother was granted leave to relocate.