Baghti & Baghti 2012. FamCA 711
A couple had a son aged 9 years at the time of judgement. The couple had lived separately under the same roof for a period. The father ceased being the earner for the household following a car accident and became the primary carer for the son, and the mother became the earner. The father then moved to live with his extended family where 7 adults lived in a 6 bedroom house.
The son had special needs of asthma, absence seizures and was over-weight being in the 95th percentile for his age. The son saw two medical specialists for his conditions.
The father alleged that the mother neglected the son’s weight saying that his excess weight was due to the diet given by the mother who provided junk food, and was related to her own eating habits and eating disorder. The father took the son to medical appointments. The father wanted to impose dietary requirements on the mother as a condition for her access (conditional access). The father monitored the boy’s weight by arranging for a dietician to weigh the boy before and after visits to the mother, without the mother’s knowledge. The father alleged that the mother regurgitated food and the son was aware of this allegation.
Both mother and father alleged the other had made threats to them in front of the child, and thwarted their time with the child (mutual accusations).
Assessors found the level of high conflict and hostility between the parents was extreme and this posed difficulties for the child.
An assessor considered it as unlikely that the child was exposed to abnormal eating behaviour by the mother as the mother had participated in a gastric banding operation.
An assessor found that the father took an excessive interest in the son’s health and welfare showing an obsessive preoccupation through his monitoring of eating and weight (health preoccupation). The father took the boy’s temperature up to 10 times daily. The assessor considered that this was an excessive interest and posed long term risks of psychological harm for the boy.
The boy was found to love both parents and there was attachment to both parents. The father’s over-solicitous approach contributed to the child having an anxious attachment disorder.
The father was assessed as having an obsessive personality structure with paranoia, contributing to his being controlling (personality ultra-critical). The father constantly sought to validate his own strong belief of the world through detailed scrutiny, including by seeking information to show that his ex-wife was not a good mother. The excessive scrutiny could be viewed as harassment.
The arrangement where the father lived with his extended family allowed the family to be highly enmeshed and to intrude into each other’s psychological space. Members of the extended family were considered to show an excessive investment in the welfare of the father as compared to the child.
The judge considered it necessary to shield the boy from the hostility between the parents.
The judge found that neither parent had facilitated a close and continuing meaningful relationship with the other parent, as neither parent had a high regard for the other parent (credit low). The judge considered that the mother was unlikely to undermine the child’s relationship with the father, whereas the father did undermine the child’s relationship with the mother (parenting style undermining).
The judge ordered:
- that the mother have sole parental responsibility
- the father have access to his son
- the mother inform the father about proposals for major decisions, inviting agreement and allowing the father an opportunity to propose an alternative with reasons being given. If the parties failed to agree then the judge ordered that matters be referred to mediation.
- both parties refrain from conducting surveillance to monitor by personal observation, photographs, or by audio or video recordings (restrained from monitoring).