Ackerman & Ackerman 2013 FMCAfam 109

A couple divorced with daughters aged 10 and 8 years.  The father had been the breadwinner while the mother cared for the children.  The mother alleged the father had shown disinterest in the children and had limited involvement with the children leaving all care arrangements to her during their marriage.

The father alleged the mother participated in parentification by enlisting the children to provide emotional support for herself (parenting style dependent).

The mother alleged that the father was controlling and dictatorial and that his actions amounted to family violence.  The father demanded a high standard of housekeeping and acted like an overseer leaving her feeling guilty and controlled.  The mother reported that the father criticised the standard of her housework, did not enjoy socials as much as she and that he controlled social engagements but declined to attend himself leaving her to attend alone (personality ultra-critical).

The mother reported that the father had been too involved in his work and had spent insufficient time with their children, alleging that the father lacked the empathy that is required to meet the emotional needs of their daughters. The mother described the father as a stern and distant parent who was emotionally insensitive to his children, and reported that one daughter became frightened of him when he was angry.

The father acknowledged that he had traditional family values, and that he sought orderliness, tidiness and regularity in his life which his wife considered to be obsessive.  The father acknowledged that he had been a strict disciplinarian, saying that the disciplinary role had been assigned to him by his wife (parenting style authoritarian).   The father had participated in therapy sessions to improve his parenting skills following the separation (therapy for parent).

The mother gave evidence that the father showed signs of becoming angry and losing his temper including gritting his teeth and clenching his hands into a fist beside his body and this left her feeling afraid.  The father became impatient with the children and had on two occasions used abusive words towards one daughter.  The mother reported that on another occasion the father had clipped his daughter on the ear following her misbehaviour (discipline).

The father acknowledged he had acted as reported, but interpreted his actions as situational violence as the actions occurred during the period of separation, and he denied any intention to coerce his wife.  The father had no history of using physical violence against the wife.

A consultant described interactions between the daughters and father as close and responsive (attachment).


Child’s behaviour

A consultant considered that one daughter was emotionally sensitive and showed empathy for people’s pain, and felt a need to protect her mother from hurting.  The consultant considered the daughter may have felt some guilt on leaving the mother to have fun with the father, and may have reported symptoms of head-aches and stomach-aches to the mother when having fun with the father as a means of showing emotional support for her mother and of reducing her own feelings of guilt, being enmeshed (differentiate own/others emotions).

The judge ruled that the father’s actions fell short of family violence.

The judge found that the couple had differing personalities, had different world views and had parenting styles that differed, and that they appeared to have grown apart after marrying.

The judge found that the daughters did not need protection from their father.

The judge ordered that the children spend substantial and significant time with both parents.  The judge ordered shared parental responsibility.