Parenting case where coercive control is alleged in Family Court of Australia

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Facts

Both the applicant father and respondent mother are 42 years of age who have two children now aged 10 and 7, who both have complex special needs.

The parenting arrangement was that the children lived with the mother and spends time with the father each weekend for six hours.

In this case the mother proposed that the current parenting arrangements continue a final basis whilst the father proposed a change of residence and that the children spend alternate weekends and holiday time with the mother. Both parties asked the Court to make an order that they have sole parental responsibility.

The father’s allegation was that the mother had actively prevented him from having a relationship with the children and believes she has fabricated instances of family violence and exaggerated the children’s special needs in order to sabotage their relationship with the father, and thereby alienate the children from him. On the other hand, the mother’s allegation was that she been the subject of family violence, primarily coercion and control, but at times verbal and physical abuse. And she alleged that her children have been exposed directly or indirectly to this violence.

Issues

The court determined whether the children were safe with their father given allegations of family violence or their special needs, and if any risks can be managed. Second, if increasing the children’s time with their father is beneficial for them. Third, whether the mother’s unwillingness to support the children’s relationship with their father itself posed a risk to the children. Lastly, whether it is in the best interests of the children to primarily live with their father if there are no significant risks with the mother.

Primary judge reasoning

First the primary judge considered whether the parties’ parenting proposals to provide for a meaningful relationship between the children and each of their parents. The court found that it needs to decide whether the minimal time the mother proposes for the children to spend with their father is enough to allow him significant involvement in their lives.

This decision hinges on what is in the children’s best interests, considering all relevant factors. Such as whether the children are at risk in either parties’ care; the court found that the father’s behaviour, including his threat of self-harm towards the mother during their time together, was a form of emotional abuse, and controlling and coercive behaviour, and hence constituted family violence. The court also found some incidents where father was behaving in this manner in the presence of their children and subjected them to direct physical and verbal family violence.

The court then considered whether the children were at ongoing risk of family violence and found that there was a strong possibility that the father will resort to emotional or physical violence in the future, especially at times when he is stressed.

The court also considered other relevant factors such as what the children’s relationship was like with each parent and what would the impact of any change on the children be. The court found that the children’s development and emotional needs would likely be compromised by any significant change to the current care arrangements.

Conclusion

Hence with the primary judge’s considerations, the Federal Circuit and Family Court found that the current arrangements are in the best interests of the children with slight variations. It is important to note that the primary concern of the judge is to ensure that the orders proposed is in the best interests of the children considering many relevant factors such as above.

If you want to discuss your family law parenting case with an expert Melbourne Family Lawyer, please contact Rowan Skinner at our office on 9995 9155. We also service clients in Melbourne Northern Suburbs, such as Northcote, Alphington, Carlton, Fitzroy, North Fitzroy, Kew and Heidelberg.

Nixon & Nixon [2024] FedCFamC2F 94

https://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/FedCFamC2F/2024/94.html

Rowan Skinner

About Rowan Skinner

Rowan Skinner is a highly skilled family lawyer with over 35 years of experience across various legal roles and jurisdictions. Rowan specialises in resolving family law disputes such as divorce, financial settlements, child custody and domestic violence cases. Through his diverse and extensive experience, Rowan has a deep understanding of the complexities and nuances involved in family law. Rowan is a skilled negotiator and litigator who follows a compassionate and client-focused approach which prioritises helping you navigate what can be an emotional and challenging time.