Elford & Elford 2015 FamCA 192

The mother and her young adult daughter alleged that the father engaged in family violence.  Evidence was given that the parents were a high conflict couple who exposed the child aged ten years to their arguments (capacity to protect).   The judge found that the parties were preoccupied with resolving disputes about factual matters and this interfered with their ability to prioritise the best interests of the child.  Both parents had withheld the child from contacts with the other parent, which the judge viewed as using the child as a pawn (parenting style self centred).

The child quoted the father as saying that the father cries a lot when the child is not with him, and the father would ‘shrivel up and die’ if the child lived with the mother.  The judge found the child was likely to conclude from these comments that the father could barely contain his despair, and this was a form of emotional blackmail designed to induce some level of guilt in the child for not living permanently with the father and was a means of producing loyalty to the father (parenting style emotional).

The father saw a counsellor and took the child to some counselling sessions when he acknowledged speaking to the counsellor in front of the child in a manner critical of the mother.  The judge found that exposing a child to denigrating comments is likely to give a child the impression that the child must choose sides between the parents, and undermines a meaningful relationship with both parents (parenting style undermining).  The judge found that the child felt he did not have the father’s emotional permission to greet the mother if they meet on the street.

The father acknowledged he struck or hit the mother’s teenage daughter on the face as a form of discipline.  The judge found that striking a teenager on the face is not a legitimate form of discipline or corporal punishment, but is assault and is family violence.

The father acknowledged that when he considered the mother to be unreasonable he would hold her by the wrist, force her into the bedroom and shut her into the room.  The father said he was responding to provocation and that he would also rant and rave.  The judge found that this practice was admonishing an adult like a child, and was controlling coercive behaviour that was aimed to induce fear and submission both in the mother and in the child who watched (family violence).

An assessor considered that the father had narcissistic personality traits.  The judge found that it is not necessary to determine the validity of every opinion expressed by an assessor.

The assessor reported concerns about the child’s behaviour both towards the mother and at school.  After visits with the father the child used unusual terms to refer to his mother, such as ‘woman.’  At school the child became belligerent.  The assessor expressed concern that the child might be imitating the father’s behaviour.

The assessor found that the child was not coping with the equal time shared care arrangement, and was very anxious.

The judge found that there was a significant lack of trust and poor communication between the parents, and that the presumption of shared parental responsibility had been rebutted on grounds including family violence.

The judge found that the child should live primarily with one parent and spend time with the other parent.  The judge found that the mother was a better role model for the child and that the father had an impaired capacity to cater for the child’s emotional needs and lacked insight about the impact of his actions on the child.

The assessor recommended an embargo on the father contacting the child for a few months followed by a graduated approach of increasing contact.  The judge agreed with this recommendation and issued orders based on this approach.