Siebert & Gleason 2015 FamCA 482

The case involved two children aged 13 and 17 years who both showed high levels of anxiety.  The older child had suffered glandular fever for some years.  The father was assessed as having anxiety, and had been given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

An assessor reported that parenting styles differ between the parents.  Differences had emerged over the older child’s school attendance.  The mother took the child to a therapist who considered that the child missed school to avoid anxiety associated both with getting good marks and with peer reactions.  The therapist recommended that the child confront situations that produce anxiety, and learn to manage the anxiety.  The mother agreed with the therapist’s recommendations, but the father preferred his own approach and the mother claimed that the father undermined her parenting approach (parenting style undermining).  The mother agreed that the child not attend school when the child experienced symptoms of fatigue, hot flushes and headaches, which were attributed to anxiety.  The father proposed that the child relocate to spend more time with him.  The child ran away from the mother to stay with the father (abscond), and a recovery order was issued.

An assessor described the mother’s parenting approach as emphasising a need for clear rules and limits, with consistent consequences (parenting style authoritative).  The father emphasised the importance of remaining friendly towards the child and providing unequivocal support, as the parent’s role is to implement the child’s wishes (parenting style permissive or indulgent).   The assessor considered that the father set himself up to be the good-guy and to present the mother as a bad-guy.  The judge found that the father had shared information about his own personal life with the children, including about his hurdles, in a manner designed to gain the sympathy of the children.   The assessor recommended that very young children be required to do as their parent asks, but that older children be given options allowing choice between options provided by the parent.

The assessor noted that an approach of providing children with choices within limits helps children to internalise standards of behaviour under the influence of their parents.  However if two parents provide very different choices and standards this interferes with the internalisation of standards by children.  The assessor considered both that the father’s relationship with the child was enmeshed as the father did not distinguish his needs from the child’s needs, and that the options provided by the father reflected the father’s needs.  The judge placed limited weight on the expressed wishes of the children (child’s wishes).

The judge ordered that the children spend substantial time with both parents.  The judge ordered that the parents have shared parental responsibility, except that the mother be delegated authority to make decisions on medical matters (decision delegated).