Pullman & Pullman 2012. FamCA 980
A couple separated having 2 children aged 11 and 10 years. The parents agreed their children had observed one physical altercation when police were called. The children initially spent time with the father while living with the mother. A month after the separation the father disclosed that he had commenced a new relationship with another woman (re-partnered). The mother then reported to police that the father had a history of being verbally and physically aggressive after consuming alcohol and cannabis, and police laid charges (family violence, personality aggressive). The children then stopped visiting their father (withheld).
The children were uneasy at handover. The mother alleged this occurred because the children were frightened of their father. The father alleged the children felt divided loyalties and did not want to upset their mother so acted in accordance with her hostility towards him (loyal, please both parents). The mother acknowledged that the children sensed her moods and tried to make her feel better (parentification).
The mother’s allegations about assaults by the father were not repeated in a consistent manner.
On two occasions the mother called an ambulance while caring for the children when in a state of great distress and she was taken to hospital. On one occasion the mother spoke of wanting to die while in the ambulance with the children present. The mother had absconded with the children for a period in a way that was unpredictable to others (lacked insight, impact on child, personality impulsive).
A family consultant noted that when questioned, the children reported their mother’s fears rather than their own fears, so the children did not distinguish their own emotions from the mother’s emotions (differentiate own/others emotions, enmeshed). Observations showed that the children looked for their mother’s approval before doing things the consultant asked. The consultant considered that the mother actively involved the children in her own distress, and the mother did not distinguish her own emotional needs from the needs of the children (parental distress).
The consultant observed that when the children were informed that their father would soon be coming into a session both children became vigilant. The 10 year old soon warmed to her father while the 11 year old child continued to be rejecting towards him.
The matter went to trial. The mother was very distressed on hearing evidence, and left the court during the hearing. An order was made for the mother to be assessed by a psychiatrist. The psychiatric assessment found that the mother had a borderline personality disorder (personality emotionally volatile).
The trial judge made an interim order that the children transfer to live with the father for a period. Both children became happy, relaxed, confident and affectionate towards their father showing attachment, and spoke of their father’s house as being home. The children then became vigilant when access visits with their mother became imminent.
The judge found that the two parents were incapable of having rational discussions about child related matters as the mother made persistent allegations about the father. The couple were a high conflict couple.
The judge found that the father did agree to encourage the children to have a positive meaningful relationship with their mother, but the mother did not agree to encourage the children to have a positive relationship with their father.
The judge found that the mother was unable to meet the children’s emotional needs as she did not reassure the children when they were apprehensive, and was impulsive and unpredictable, and she did not prioritise child’s needs. The judge considered that the mother conspired with the children (personality self-centred).
The judge ruled that one parent must have sole parental responsibility, and this obviously should be the parent with whom the children lived.
The judge made a final order following advice that therapy to address the mother’s condition would take at least a year and the result would be uncertain (therapy for parent).
The judge granted sole parental responsibility to the father. The judge granted four hours per month of supervised access with the mother (access supervised) because of the mother’s unrestrained labile behaviour or high emotionality, and as she prioritised her own emotional needs over the emotional needs of her children.
The mother was authorised to pass a copy of the orders and reports by family consultants to her therapists.