Giltson & Basfield 2014 FamCA 319
Evidence was given that a mother experienced post-traumatic stress disorder which she attributed entirely to the actions of the father as he had been emotionally controlling and abusive towards her. The father denied that events described by the mother took place. For 18 months the father spent 7.5 hours each weekend with the child under supervision of the mother, followed by a period of no contact. The child had not spent time with the father for 2.5 years at the time of the hearing. Experts agreed that the child’s behaviour had deteriorated over a period of 17 months following contact with the father.
The mother reported that even indirect contact with the father exacerbated her own severe anxiety. An expert opined that the mother’s emotional and psychological state would continue so long as the father attempted to spend time with the child. The mother alleged she had been sexual assaulted by the father, and the court found that the genuineness of her strong belief was the critical issue rather than the reality of the occurrence. The mother had participated in treatment for her anxiety. The mother had completed a psychometric test of PTSD that included an assessment of the validity of results, with no exaggeration being found.
One expert who interviewed the parties on a few occasions considered that the mother was not genuine in her complaints of anxiety and that she was consciously and unconsciously trying to drive a wedge between the father and the child as a consequence of her anger and not her anxiety. The assessor formed an impression that the mother liked to control her environment in order to reduce her own anxiety. Evidence was given that the child was securely attached to the mother. The expert opined that the timing of the unfolding story of increasingly complex allegations seemed to justify cessation of contact with the father. The expert thought that the child then aged 8 years might herself have a post-traumatic stress disorder from observing the mother’s traumatised behaviour, and the expert considered this to be emotional abuse by the mother and poor parenting.
Two experts disagreed about whether or not the child had a secure attachment with the father.
The court found that the child’s behaviour had changed markedly not because of the child’s contact with the father per se but from the reaction of the mother to such contact. The mother had allowed her fears and anxieties about the father to be projected onto the child. The court found that a parent’s anxiety that impairs their parenting ability and negatively affects a child is a relevant factor to take into account when making parenting orders. The court found that the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility had been rebutted. The court ordered no contact with the father.