Gillard & Gillard 2015 FamCAFC 169

Parents had separated 7 years earlier.  A trial judge found that the father of children aged 12 and 10 years had engaged in a pattern of emotionally abusive behaviour that undermined the children’s relationships with their mother, and amounted to family violence.  The judge found that the dynamic of abuse that existed prior to separation and had continued after separation but in a different form.  The father appealed orders made by the trial judge for the children to live with the mother and to spend limited time with the father.  The father had withheld the older child at the time of the hearing for 30 months, alleging that this child was afraid of the mother who used physical discipline with him.

The primary judge found that the mother had been subjected to pushing, yelling, swearing, demeaning, threatening, coercive and controlling behaviour as well as to repeated derogatory taunts by the father.  This included the father telling the mother to get down on her knees and apologise.  The judge found that this was family violence, and that the children had been exposed to family violence.

An expert provided evidence that, after separation, the father had continued relentless criticism of the mother to multiple professionals in whatever forum he could find, including in settings where the mother presented as a parent such as the school and swimming pool.  The judge found that this represented ongoing emotional abuse.  The expert reported that the father had demonstrated attitudes and behaviours typical of perpetrators of family violence including attitudes of entitlement, control, superiority, possessiveness, manipulativeness, making contradictory statements and behaviours, externalisation of responsibility, denial, minimisation and victim-blaming and confusion of love and abuse.

The expert reported an interaction between the father and child that continued for about 5 minutes during an observed handover session. The father spoke to the child in a tense and teary manner about leaving the child, and picked up the child. The child appeared tense but submitted to the father’s positioning of her as he lifted her and kissed her.  The child appeared pensive and avoided eye contact with the father, and became more behaviourally disorganised, acting coyly.  The interaction continued until the mother ended it by saying it was time to go.  The expert described the interaction as showing clinginess by a parent.  The expert concluded that the child was taking a parentified and pseudomature role in the relationship, with a focus on meeting the father’s needs.

School staff reported that the father was often sad-looking when he spent time with the child.

The appeal judge supported the finding by the primary judge that the father’s need for affirmation from the children was sufficiently intense to amount to emotional abuse, and that the father showed “emotionally manipulative and coercive patterns of relating”.

The appeal judge found that the strong criticisms made by the trial judge were warranted as the father’s abuse was insidious.  The appeal judge found that the orders made by the primary judge were largely consistent with expert recommendations and were designed to maintain the children’s relationship with both parents and to minimise the risk of harm to the children.   The appeal judge found that no error had been established and dismissed the father’s appeal.