Kardos & Coutts 2014 FamCA 1985

The case involved a child aged 9 years who had been on a shared care arrangement for four years.  The mother was aged 18 years when the child was born, and the father left her to raise the child with the support of her family for the first three years of the child’s life (young parent).  Later the father withheld the child from the mother after the mother re-partnered and the father was concerned that the mother’s new partner  over-disciplined the child.   The child told the mother that the mother told lies and that only the father told the truth, and that the mother had hidden the child from the father for the first part of his life until the mother needed help from the father (coached).

The family assessor considered the child to be anxious and burdened.  The child appeared fully conversant with adult disputes and was aligned with the father’s worries on topics such as getting help for the mother so that she would not be so angry anymore.  The child reported that the mother gets angry “if we don’t feel the same way she does – what she wants us to feel.”  The assessor predicted that the child was very likely to develop feelings of entitlement and to view himself unrealistically as a victim in other relationships.  The assessor reported that the child’s complaints about being smacked and even hit by his mother were unsubstantiated allegations, and that the child was beginning to believe that the world had dealt him a bad hand and that his focus was moving towards unfairness to himself, seeing himself as a victim of his mother’s behaviour.

A family report concluded that the father was highly emotionally dependant on the child, and that the child was enmeshed with the father (parenting style emotional).

The judge found that the father was passive and gave hints and tried to avoid conflict when communicating with the mother who was upfront (personality submissive).  The child suffered from trying to reconcile the two parents (please both parents).

The judge found that the father had unintentionally emotionally abused the child by being dependent on the child to meet his own needs (parental dependence), by over-involving the child in adult concerns and by providing the child with information critical of the mother and then using the child to convey that information to the mother rather than speaking directly to the mother (parenting style undermining, pass messages, communication poor).

The judge found that the child’s need to regularly see the father at present outweighed the destructive effects of the father’s actions.  The child needed to be relieved of the over-involvement in the parental conflict and the current shared care arrangement should not continue.

The judge ordered that the child live with the mother and spend substantial time with the father. The judge found that the child has suffered from the lack of communication between the parents and that one parent should have authority for the child’s sake, so granted the mother sole parental responsibility.