Ramirez & Ramirez 2013 FamCA 153

A child aged 12 years had special needs due to mild cerebral palsy, mild intellectual disability and epilepsy.   The father had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  The child was in the primary care of the mother.  The father sought increased time including overnight stays.  The child had spent 7 overnight stays and had been upset on returning from the last stay, saying that she became bored when spending too long with the father.

The father asserted that the mother exaggerated the child’s disabilities and needs whilst the mother said that the father had provided little assistance.  The mother had organised services for the child.

The father had two years earlier been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and participated in therapy for this condition.  The father had been hospitalised and displayed symptoms of mania requiring involuntary treatment.  The mother said the child had been exposed to the father’s behaviour during the course of a psychotic episode when she took the child to visit him in hospital, and that the child was afraid of the father.  The mother reported that the child had been in a car when the father became angry and drove too fast and drove through a garage door, and that the mother had been shouting at the father at the time.

The father’s treating doctor said that although the father was taking mental health medications there was no remission of his symptoms and that changes to medication were being arranged.  The judge found that the father was preoccupied with his negative views about the mother rather than being child-focused (personality rigid).  Psychological reports annexed to the father’s affidavit noted that symptoms of his condition include chronic procrastination and indecisiveness.

A family consultant reported that the father presented as being focused on his own inability to spend enough time with the child, as being critical of the mother and perceiving her concerns about the child to be overprotective, and holding a strong belief that the mother’s attending to the child’s medical, educational and emotional needs were efforts to frustrate him from spending more time with the child.  The father did not appear to fully accept the professional assessments in respect of the child’s various needs.  The father appeared unable to engage well with the child or to comfort her when she was upset.

The mother was diagnosed by her GP as having an Adjustment Disorder – mixed anxiety and depression type related to her social circumstances including the legal proceedings.

The consultant commented on the child’s wishes, saying that the child raised concerns about staying with her father, but she was not able to articulate what her concerns were.  The child’s cognitive functioning was assessed as being two years behind her chronological age of 12 years.

The judge found that the father showed a very poor understanding of the extent of the child’s disabilities and the services she has required and continues to require.  The judge found that the father had been more focused on what he perceived to be his right to spend time with the child rather than what was really best for the child (child focused).  The judge found that the father’s behaviour in hospital could reasonably be categorised as erratic and volatile.  No evidence was submitted about the impact of the father’s mental health condition on his parenting capacity.  The judge found that the father’s non-disclosure of his condition to the mother until the trial showed a lack of insight by the father.  The judge decided to adopt a cautious approach in the circumstances.

The judge found that the father and the paternal family appeared to lack insight or a willingness to accept the various difficulties the child faced.  The judge found that the father appeared to have been preoccupied with his negative views about the mother rather than being child-focused.

The judge was not satisfied that the father’s condition was under control at the time, and ordered that the father’s time be supervised by a family member until stabilisation was achieved.  The judge ordered that the father’s time progress on a graduated approach, with day-only time of one full day per week for a three month period, and then introducing an overnight each alternate weekend and thereafter progressing to some short block holiday time of four days.