Daher & Halabi 2015 FamCA 487

The case involved three children aged 12, 11 and 8 years who lived with the mother and spent time with their father and his extended family at the house of a grandparent.

Tensions arose over an incident when one child was hit by an uncle when the father was not present, leaving a red mark on the child’s face.  The next time the mother dropped the children at the grandparents’ house the mother spoke to the uncle about the incident.  The uncle stated that he had disciplined the child as the mother was not present.  The mother considered the uncle to be unrepentant and informed police.  The uncle acknowledged to police that he had slapped the child as a method of discipline.  The father supported his brother using this form of discipline.   With the support of her lawyer, the mother withheld the children until the father signed an undertaking not to leave the children unsupervised with his extended family, but the father declined to sign.

The uncle was charged with assault and the offence was found to be proven but did not result in a conviction.  The mother received messages from the father and his extended family that she perceived as threatening.   The father made comments about the children’s step-father that distressed the children, and the step-father’s car was later damaged.  An AVO was taken out against the father.   Subsequently an item of clothing soaked in kerosene was found near the mother’s house, and her dog died in circumstances where a vet considered the dog had been poisoned.

The children’s GP then referred the three children to a psychologist who diagnosed anxiety.

The occupants of the mother’s house and neighbours then reported hearing five gunshots at night near the house.

The mother recommenced that the father have access visits that were supervised access by a professional.  The children resisted contact, resisted talking to the father and repeated complaints about past actions they attributed to the father.  On several occasions the children ran away from the supervisor when the supervisor encouraged them to talk to their father (abscond).

The grandmother stated that her respect for the mother had changed when the mother re-married instead of raising the children on her own.

One expert expressed a view that the mother was not 100 percent encouraging the children to have a meaningful relationship with the father.  While the three children expressed strong views to not spend time with their father, the expert considered that the children had been influenced by the mother’s strong opinions to the same effect (coached).  The judge noted that the children had directly witnessed several incidents.

The judge found that the children had been exposed to family violence.

The judge ordered that the children live with the mother, that the mother have sole parental responsibility, and that the children spend time with the father in accordance with the child’s wishes.