Watson & Burton 2015 FamCA 549

The mother of children aged 10 and 7 years was in her third long term relationship.  The first relationship commenced when she was aged 18 years and produced 3 children.  The second relationship commenced when the mother was aged 25 years and lasted for 12 years, producing 3 children.

The mother alleged that the father had sexually abused one child and the child protection department removed two children from the mother’s care and stopped contact with the father for a period, deeming that the father presented an unacceptable risk of harm to the children.  This assessment was later reviewed and reversed when it was found that the mother had made false allegations of sexual abuse by the father.  The children were then placed in the care of the father.  The mother commenced supervised contact with the children, and had limited contact for five years.  The mother sought a variation in orders.

The mother and the Independent Children’s Lawyer submitted that the mother had sought professional assistance from a treating psychologist and psychiatrist, and no longer represented an unacceptable risk of harm, submitting that she had conceded a past propensity to generate false complaints but this was no longer a feature at present.

The father argued that the mother continued to present a risk of psychological and/or emotional abuse to the children because of her propensity to make false allegations and to involve children in these allegations.  The father submitted that the mother had a long history of this conduct, including during her second marriage.  The father noted that no treatment report was submitted.

An assessment by a family consultant was quoted indicating that the mother presented as a genuine, caring woman who deeply loved and cared for her children and who desperately feared losing her role in their lives.   The mother presented as a woman with poor insight into the impact of her own abuse as a child upon her own life or she chose not to recognise how her past had affected her thoughts and behaviours throughout her life as a mother and a partner and she had been unable to make personal changes in the areas needed.

The family consultant opined that an allocation of equal shared parental responsibility and equal division of time between the parents might overcome the reluctance of the father to facilitate a meaningful relationship between the mother and the children, as it would effect a balance in power between the parents.  The judge described this view as hope triumphing over experience.  The judge found that the consultant had not considered the effect of the mother’s allegations on the father.  The judge noted that the family consultant had not spoken to the mother’s therapist whom the mother had seen monthly for 8 years.

The judge ordered that the children live with the father and spend time with the mother, and that the father have sole parental responsibility.