Garner & Hunt 2014 FamCA 1018

The case involved a child aged 13 years whose parents had separated when she was aged 8 years, where the parents engaged in ongoing conflict (high conflict couple).  Final orders had been made for the child to live with her mother and to spend time with her father, but the child had not spent time with her father for two years (contact nil).

The parents had engaged in a high degree of both verbal and physical abusive behaviour towards each other for many years, often witnessed by the child and an older sibling (capacity to protect).  The child complained that the father was often drunk and smoked cannabis when they spent time with him, and the child had taken photos of the father drinking alcohol, although he denied doing this.  The child complained that the father often called her names and hit her when he became angry.

An expert reported that the child asked not to spend more time with her father, making heartfelt requests (reluctant to contact).  The expert noted that the child was able to express her own opinion, and that her attitudes and emotions were genuine and appeared to be not under undue influence of either parent (maturity, capacity to decide).

A treating psychologist offered reintegration therapy to assist the child to spend time with her father (therapy for child).

The judge gave great weight to the wishes of this young teenager (child’s wishes).  The judge ordered that the child live with the mother and spend time with the father only according to arrangements that were made as a joint decision between the child, father and mother; after the child had informed her treating psychologist that she was willing to communicate with and spend time with the father.

The judge did not order any treatment for the father, noting that mandated therapy in a behavioural change program is far less likely to be of benefit than voluntary attendance based on an acceptance of a need for such behavioural change.