Huffman & Gorman 2015 FamCA 317


The case involved three children aged 8, 6 and 4 years.   The father alleged that the mother had over a long period of time before and after their separation threatened him and the children (family violence).  Evidence was heard from an expert and from the mother’s treating psychologist (experts simultaneous).

The father recorded comments by the mother, and 22 of these recordings were submitted in court.  Comments by the mother included threats to kill the father by stabbing him, and to kill a child by suffocation or by stabbing. Threats had a coercive tone, and the father complied with many of the mother’s demands.  The father reported seeing the mother place a pillow over one child, and putting her hands around the throat of a child until the child went red and stopped breathing.   The mother threatened to kill the father if he informed anyone about incidents, and the father did not inform any authorities before he raised the allegations in his affidavit.  The mother told the father to kill himself or she would kill a child.  The mother used a knife to cut items of the father’s clothing.  The father went to hospital on one occasion with a cut to his arm that required surgery.  The father showed photographs of bruises and cuts on his body.

The mother alleged that she had acted as described when provoked, but did not provide information about provocations.  The mother repeated stories told by the children that the father had also been violent towards the children, with her allegations commencing after the father’s allegations had been reported in court.

The expert opined that the children had expressed their complaints about the father to show their loyalty to and to align with the mother, to devalue the father and to idealise the mother.

The mother arranged therapy for child after concern that the father had abused the child.  The mother then involved herself in the child’s therapy, where the judge found that a child’s therapy should be confidential to the child.  The judge found that the child’s therapy had become an opportunity to express a narrative about the father’s abuse, giving an impression that the child’s therapy was being used to promote the mother’s position.

The expert identified the mother as having significant personality concerns and dysfunction with prominent narcissistic, antisocial and borderline traits.  The expert described a pattern of interactions where the mother became demanding, entitled, demeaning and threatening towards the father, and the father responded by being passive and yielding, with the father’s meekness leading the mother to feel justified in exerting her superiority.  The father was described as having dependent traits when in the relationship with the mother (personality dependent).  The expert considered that the children had been exposed to severe parental conflict, and that it was not safe for the children to remain in a shared care arrangement.

The judge preferred the version of events given by the father over the mother’s (credibility).

The judge found that the mother had over many years perpetrated serious family violence, and that the mother had not acted in self-defence.  The judge found that the mother presented as being an above average parent in some respects (providing physical, educational and financial care), but that there was concern about the mother’s parental capacity to provide emotional care for the children as the mother lacked insight on this topic.  The judge found that it was an unacceptable risk for the children to remain living with the mother.

The judge ordered that the children live with the father and have restricted contact with the mother for a year, followed by contact supervised by an agency.