Froth & Schneider 2011 FamCA 378
The parents separated after 3 years of living together and had a daughter aged 6 years who had been living with her mother.
When the child was aged 20 months the mother reported that the daughter was very distressed after spending time with the father, held her legs tightly together, touched her genitals while saying “no, no, no”, and inserted her fingers into her anal area (child’s sexualised behaviour). The mother cited further incidents over the next 3 months and then withheld the child from unsupervised visits. During the next 6 months the mother reported further incidents of emotionally disturbed behaviour by the child.
The mother later made further reports of sexualised behaviour by the child, and quoted the child as screaming and saying she did not want to go with her father. The maternal grandmother made similar reports. A police investigation raised a question of whether the child might have been coached. It was noted that the child aged 6 years did not consistently attend school (school attendance), and that the child slept in the same bed as the mother (parenting style permissive).
The mother took the child to a therapist. The therapist administered a PAI psychological test with both the mother and grandmother and concluded from the test that both were truthful in their reports (credibility).
The mother submitted that the father had sexually abused his daughter. The father submitted that the mother exposed the child to emotional abuse by persistently raising unfounded allegations that were untrue.
Three medical assessments were conducted on the daughter (assessments repeated).
The judge found that the mother continued to initiate discussions with the daughter about sexual activities after an investigation by the child protection department had found the allegations to be untrue, and that this amounted to emotional abuse. It was noted that the mother was unwilling to accept the professional assessment that the daughter was safe in the care of the father, and continued to attempt to undermine the relationship between father and daughter, and prevented the daughter from having contact with the father (parenting style undermining). The mother held a strong belief that the father had sexually abused his daughter (personality suspicious).
The judge did not find that the mother or those associated with her deliberately set out to make false notifications of abuse by the father. The judge did find that there was an unacceptable risk of emotional or psychological harm to the child if the child continued to live predominantly with the mother.
The mother did not continue her allegations of sexual abuse during the trial, so no finding was made on this topic.
The judge did not admit a therapist’s report as evidence as the writer had not been adequately instructed, and the report blended forensic reasons and therapeutic topics (therapist evidence, expert evidence unsatisfactory).
The judge ordered:
- the child live with the father and spend supervised access with the mother
- both parents have shared parental responsibility
- the mother be restrained from taking the child to a mental health therapist without the consent of the father (therapy for child, restrained from arrange therapy).