Leisa & Tait 2014 FamCA 152
Orders were made for a child aged 4 years to live with the father and spend time with the mother. Two years later the mother applied to reverse the orders so that she became the primary carer. The mother objected to three reports by the single expert witness who saw the child 13 times, saying that the expert was not a psychologist and followed a psychoanalytic approach. The mother took the child to Hong Kong for four months where the child was raised in the Chinese culture.
The expert found that with increasing familiarity with the assessor, the child displayed more anxiety which the expert interpreted as reflecting a serious attachment disorder. The child displayed aggression in several contexts. The expert noted that the child had experienced significant long-term separations from his primary carers and he had multiple care-givers including grandparents. The mother appeared to hold unrealistic expectations about the child’s developmental capacities and was not attuned to the child’s emotional states.
The mother placed great importance on a strict routine for the child as she believed this was required to deal with the child’s behaviour that was often disruptive and aimless. The parents held different perspectives about the child’s development and emotional functioning and followed different parenting styles. The mother believed that the child was functioning well and that eating and sleeping problems were transitory, but the father was concerned that the child was psychologically disturbed. The judge found that each parent blamed the other’s parenting abilities for the child’s behaviour.
When the child was aged 3 years the expert had opined that a shared care arrangement was not suitable for the child as he needed ‘a simplified stable arrangement with minimal transitions between his parents so as to support the development of a secure sense of self and secure attachment relationships.’ At the hearing, the expert opined that preserving stability was in the child’s best interests.
The judge found that criticisms of the expert’s theoretical orientation did not address topics the judge must consider under the legislation.
The judge ordered that the child continue to live with the father and that time with the mother increase in a graduated approach.