Finiotis & Finiotis 2010 FMCAfam 1
A couple separated and had a son aged 7 years at the time of the hearing. The mother re-partnered. The child lived with the mother and spent time with the father. The father requested sole parental responsibility alleging that family violence had occurred while the child was in the mother’s house with the new partner (re-partnered). The father raised several incidents, with some summarised here.
An incident occurred at the son’s soccer field where blows were exchanged between the father and stepfather. The judge found that family violence had occurred as the incident occurred in front of the child who was traumatised. The judge found that both parties contributed to the incident.
The father took the son to a doctor over a scratch on the boy’s hand that occurred during disciplinary action in the mother’s house. The doctor took notes but did not prescribe treatment. The boy had refused to eat evening meals for 3 days per week for three months, despite the mother’s pleading for periods of about 40 minutes (child’s behaviour). On one occasion the mother took the crying boy to his room, the stepfather screamed at him, the mother hit the boy with a slipper, and the mother pinched the boy breaking his skin (discipline). The boy told the mother that the father had informed him he did not have to eat meals if he did not want to. The father asked police to investigate the incident as physical abuse, and the police questioned whether the boy had been coached by the father to make statements.
One expert considered that it was reasonable for parents to accept a child not eating meals for extensive periods when there is no medical condition.
The judge ruled that the feeding regime did not amount to family violence or harsh discipline. The judge found that involving a doctor for forensic reasons rather than medical treatment was inappropriate parenting (competent parent).
The father raised many issues about events in the mother’s house, including the mother used moth balls on the child’s clothes, and the mother did not display photos of the father and his family provided by the father. The judge found that the father unreasonably and unnecessarily asked the boy to report on happenings in the mother’s house, embroiling the child in adult disputes between the parents that is harmful rather than protective for the child.
The judge found that the father tended to be over-critical of the mother regardless of the circumstances, and was incapable of applying critical self reflection and analysis (lacked insight, personality ultra-critical).
One dispute involved the father arriving late at handover times. The mother asked her 6 year old child to tell the father to leave home earlier and to be on time. The mother explained that she wanted the child to see that the father makes mistakes as the child had considered the father to be perfect (pass messages). The judge found that it was clearly inappropriate for one parent to ask a child to report on parental activities and to hold a child responsible for things he had no control over as this involves the child in adult disputes between the parents.
The judge ordered:
- the mother have sole parental responsibility for the child
- the child live with the mother and spend time with the father
- the mother and others be restrained from physically chastising and hitting the boy, or ridiculing the boy (restrained from physical discipline).
The mother alleged that the father had a delusional mental health condition as the father believed he had been subject to surveillance by authorities for several years in different states. A judge ordered that the father participate in a psychiatric examination but the father declined and instead provided a report from a clinical psychologist.
The judge found that the father was not obliged to attend a specialist assessment.
The assessing psychologist administered two psychometric tests that did not reveal any disorder including of paranoia. The psychologist was then shown correspondence written by the father to federal authorities complaining about his surveillance, and the psychologist changed his opinion saying this was evidence of a delusional disorder persecutory type, and that tests are not always reliable. The judge preferred evidence provided by a psychiatrist about diagnoses of mental health conditions.