Jollie & Dysart 2014 FamCAFC 149
A 12 year old boy had lived with his mother for 18 months and then was ordered to live with his father and to spend time with his mother. The mother appealed saying that the judge had given excessive weight to the opinion of a single expert witness.
The judge described the boy as intelligent and thoughtful, but found the boy was not mature enough to understand that taking his mother’s side and looking after her emotionally was not what he should be doing (differentiate own/others emotions). The judge declined to give the boy the control over events that the child insisted on (child’s wishes).
An expert had reported that the nature of the mother-son relationship had taken primacy in the boy’s life, was detrimental to his welfare, and would disrupt his personal development and interpersonal functioning if it continued, as the boy would play out a hostile and ambivalent relationship with his father and relationships would remain enmeshed.
The expert noted that the boy’s distress had worsened after the boy moved full-time into the care of his mother. The boy changed from being anxious, hurt, aggrieved and in need of protection to becoming uncooperative and disrespectful toward his mother. The mother was unable to enforce and set firm boundaries such as school attendance and computer time, and the boy had missed school on 58 days in 7 months (school attendance, parenting style permissive). The expert considered that the boy remained fragile and was not developing resilience. The expert considered that the boy had an anxious-ambivalent attachment relationship with his mother and this had begun to affect other relationships, as the boy began to bond with others against perceived common enemies.
The expert reported that when he was at the father’s house the boy worried that his mother might kill herself or be hit by a car, and he wanted to be vigilant in monitoring his mother’s welfare by phoning her to make her feel better (parentification).
The expert concluded that parentification was occurring as the boy was concerned for his mother’s welfare and focused on his meeting the needs of his mother rather than the emphasis being on the mother meeting the boy’s emotional needs. The expert described the boy as showing pseudo-maturity as the boy had to worry about, weigh up, and adapt to serious adult matters at a young age (adult disputes). The boy was managing this dilemma without an adult foundation of wisdom, experience and brain development, and this is associated with a lot of anxiety and with a risk of unwise decisions.
The mother’s appeal that the judge had not expressed sufficient reason for her decision was dismissed.