Wilson & Wilson 2015 FamCA 490
A mother was ordered to have supervised access with her child aged 13 years but she found it too difficult to meet conditions set by a contact centre. The mother had alleged sexual abuse of the child by the father but this was an unsubstantiated allegation. The child reported that the mother became angry in ways that were unpredictable for the child, and that the mother had hit her with a wooden spoon about twice a month resulting in bruises to her leg, an allegation the mother denied. The child had been exposed to several years of parental conflict, and was assessed as being at moderate risk of self harm.
After leaving the family home the father had irregular contact with the child, and did not see the child for a period of one year (contact limited). The child had lived with the mother for nine years. The father reported that the mother had linked his access to the child when negotiating for him to return to a relationship with her, but the father had refused, and the mother stated that he would not see the child again.
An assessor stated that when parents engage in ongoing conflict, children often pass through four phases of adjustment. In the first phase the child tells both parents what the child thinks the parents want to hear. In the second phase the child does not talk about what happens in the other parent’s house. In the third phase the child takes sides with one parent (align). In the fourth phase the child does not want to stay with one parent (alienate). The assessor concluded that this child was in the third phase of adjustment of alignment.
The assessor criticised a letter the mother had written to the child as her letter referred to the parental conflict, questioned when the mother would see the child again, exhorted the child to continue religious practices, and noted that the mother missed the child rather than expressing unconditional affection for the child. The assessor also objected that the letter criticised the ICL for letters not being delivered. The assessor opined that comments in the letter might leave the child feeling responsible for the mother not seeing the child, and feeling that the mother blamed the child for the mother’s predicament. The assessor considered that the mother was unable to contain her negative emotions towards the father when in the presence of the child (parenting style insightless).
The assessor criticised the father for exposing the child to conflict between the parents. The father stated that he did this in the interests of honesty. The assessor noted that parents who alienate children often prioritise honesty over the parental responsibility to protect children (capacity to protect).
The judge found that the child was at risk of both physical abuse and emotional abuse from the mother, and that the child needed to be protected from this abuse. The judge found that the mother focused on the injustice to her after having her child removed from her care, rather than on the best interests of the child. The judge found that the mother focused on allegations of family violence alleged to have occurred ten years before when the couple separated, rather than on matters currently before the Court.
The judge ordered that the child live with the father and spend no time with the mother. Sole parental responsibility was granted to the father. The judge ordered that the report by the family consultant be made available to the child’s therapists (therapy for child).