Mullen & Acken No 2. 2011 FamCA 772

A couple had three daughters aged 12, 11 and 9 years.  After separation the mother had on several occasions phoned her daughters and asked them to write to the ICL to pass on their negative experiences in the father’s household, how unhappy they were, and how they wanted to live with the mother (coached).

The judge found that the mother held strong negative views about the father and appeared to communicate her views to the children.  The mother had discussed the matrimonial issues in the presence of the children and from comments made by the children as well as her own reports of what the children told her, the mother did not establish or set firm boundaries about what she discussed with them (adult topics).  The judge opined that the mother projected her own anxieties onto the children and that she did not clearly distinguish between her own emotional needs and those of the children (differentiate own/others emotions), and did not prioritise the children’s emotional needs (prioritise child’s needs). The children had to live as though the mother’s anxieties and perceptions were also their perceptions (personality emotionally volatile).  If as alleged, the mother also asked a daughter continually to report on her father, then the mother was behaving in a manner directly contrary to the children’s welfare and was damaging the child’s relationship with her father.  The daughter, as well as the other children, had needed to become suspicious in order to report back to their mother.  Exposing the children to the mother’s demands was not in the children’s best interests as the children too may develop ideas of persecution (personality suspicious).

The judge expressed concern about the allegations in relation to the children where the older daughter’s sexual thoughts about her father and the alleged dreams about sex and her father. If it is true that the child repeatedly reported her father’s alleged behaviour at bedtime to her mother, that this is most likely to be at the mother’s urging or caused by the mother’s need to have the daughter report this and other issues. Concern was expressed about the genesis of the alleged “sexual” thoughts noting that the mother has been the only one to use this term. If this analysis is correct, then it is not unreasonable to consider the mother’s behaviour to be abusive and to adversely affect the daughter, her relationship with her father and her future belief about her sexuality. The daughter by both her own report and that of her father, had begun to self harm by cutting her hair (emotional abuse).

The judge ordered that the father have sole parental responsibility.  The judge ordered that the mother have structured communication with the children by letters, cards and gifts via the ICL, and that the ICL have the authority to not forward communications, but that he must inform the parents when he makes this decision.