Haas & Babcock 2013 FCCA 635

A child was born after the couple had a very brief relationship, and the child was never raised jointly by the two parents.  Both parents were socially vulnerable, and neither had worked recently.  The parents lived 40 km apart and neither had reliable private transport.  The father had been assessed during his school days as having a mild intellectual disability with an IQ of 63, and was on a disability support pension.  The mother had an extensive history with welfare agencies, with 23 subpoenas being required to obtain full information about her history.

The father had left the relationship and had not seen the child for 2 years (contaclimited involvement).  The mother then applied for child support payments, and the father sought access time.

The father alleged that the mother had not discharged her parental responsibility due to a history of instability.  The mother alleged that the father had a history of violence (mutual accusations).

The mother had a second child from another brief relationship.

An expert found that the father received daily support from his mother and from his new partner while in a relationship of 2 years.  The father had a conviction for assaulting a previous girl-friend, and had received brief therapy aimed at anger management and dealing with stressors, but was not prescribed medication (therapy for parent).

The expert found that the mother had a history of unstable accommodation, and had been evicted by her own mother.  The mother had frequently changed partners with six partners being reported during the time under investigation, and her current partner was not called to give evidence. The mother did not establish basic positive routines that were suitable for raising a young child, including sleep routines as the mother commonly remained awake until 3.00am.  The adequacy of supervision of the child and discipline of the child provided by the mother was uncertain, as the mother reported to health authorities that the child displayed hyperactive behaviour and the mother sought medication to manage this rather than adjusting her own routines, and the mother told a child protection officer that it was ok to yell in front of the children as they were used to it (discipline).  The mother had a history of chronic conflict with authorities.  The expert considered that the mother did not respond well to supervision by an agency, did not engage with support agencies, and did not respond well to advice.  The mother had been featured on a TV show claiming to be homeless with two young children when she technically did not meet the definition of homelessness.  The mother had poorly controlled diabetes (marked instability).

The expert expressed an opinion that separating the half-siblings from the care of the mother might reduce pressure on the mother who was emotionally volatile showing high emotionality and being unable to cope under pressure (personality emotionally volatile, sibling separation).

The judge found that the mother was a manipulative person who used a range of strategies including covert threat, making a scene, and exaggerating circumstances to gain an advantage for herself.   The judge concluded that the mother’s temperament and lifestyle were ill suited to dealing with the challenges of raising a young child (personality manipulative).

The judge considered that the mother viewed herself as being disempowered but acted in a confrontive and demanding manner while denying this manner (personality domineering).

The judge found that no evidence had been presented that the father had neglected the needs of the children, and evidence was presented that the father pro-actively enrolled the child in a pre-school.

The judge found that the mother formed short-term emotionally based relationships that broke down in volatile circumstances.

The judge considered it more important for the child to receive competent parenting than to continue to live with his half-sibling.

The judge ordered that the child live predominantly with one parent and spend time with the other parent.

The judge ordered that the child live with the father and spend time with the mother.  The judge ordered equal shared parental responsibility.