Alcohol use by Mother a contributing factor

Alcohol use by Mother a contributing factor

McGrath & Bean

Mother’s Alcohol Use

  1. The evidence in the father’s Affidavit about the mother’s historical alcohol use was to a large extent unchallenged. Some of that evidence is referred to earlier in these Reasons, but the father’s evidence is certainly concerning in relation to the mother’s long term and consistently heavy alcohol consumption, particularly on occasions when the children have been in her care.
  2. The mother’s evidence in relation to her alcohol consumption is contradictory.
  3. During the interviews with the Family Consultant for the purposes of the preparation of the Family Report, which occurred on 18 January 2016, the mother denied the father’s allegations that she consumed alcohol to excess, either historically or currently. In regards to her current use, the mother said that she consumed approximately half a dozen vodka drinks on a Friday or Saturday night whilst at home with Y and the maternal grandparents.
  4. The mother’s current level of alcohol consumption as stated to the Family Consultant is excessive.[11]
  5. In the trial Affidavit filed on the first day of hearing, namely 10 October 2016, the mother says as follows:
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    I agree that in the past I did perhaps over indulge in drinking alcohol, and I feel ashamed about this. I have stopped this practice for some time now. Over the past 12 months or so, I would only take an occasional drink during a party or an event. I have spoken to my doctor about what is acceptable as far as drinking alcohol and she said to me: “One or two drinks two or three times a week is considered to be the safe level of consumption of alcohol.” I do not even take this much alcohol now, so I am comfortable in knowing that neither I nor my children are at risk from my alcohol consumption.

  6. During her cross-examination the mother made a number of concessions in relation to her alcohol use in the past. She agreed that she denied having a problem with alcohol to the Family Consultant, that in her first Affidavit filed in these proceedings (which was not relied upon a trial) she did not mention drinking at all, in her second Affidavit (which was also not relied upon a trial) there was no issue raised in relation to her drinking and in her trial Affidavit she gave evidence as outlined in paragraph 75 above.
  7. The mother said that she was completely open with her drinking since she has been living with her parents, which was approximately two years ago, and that she cannot hide her drinking from them (nor does she do so).
  8. The paternal grandmother’s evidence, which was not challenged at all in the proceedings, is that during the parties’ relationship, the mother was observed to hide her drinking by putting spirits in red cordial drinks. The mother would hide the empty spirit bottles in the bins of neighbours, in the kitchen cabinets and in other places.
  9. The mother said that after the Family Report interviews and after speaking to her doctor, that she “just cut right back” her drinking.
  10. The mother accepted during her cross-examination that before X was born she was an alcoholic. She also said that she stopped being an alcoholic when these proceedings started.
  11. The mother has not seen it is appropriate to attend any counselling or seek any external help to deal with her excessive alcohol use. She says that her parents helped her a lot, and that she will continue to rely upon them as a support.
  12. The mother also said that she is not a naturally angry person and that she is only angry when drinking. While she did not remember hitting the father or spitting on his face, she said that these things could be true. Being cross-examined about an attack on the father with a glass bottle the mother admitted to being violent on that occasion but said that this was not alcohol fuelled violence.
  13. The mother’s parents, who might have been seen as a protective factor for the children, were not called as witnesses in the mother’s case. For that reason, I draw a Jones v Dunkel[12] inference in respect of their evidence. They were however interviewed by the Family Consultant.
  14. To the Family Consultant the maternal grandparents said that when they invited the mother to move in with them there was a stipulation that she had to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, counselling and a playgroup with Y. The maternal grandfather said that although the mother had not attended Alcoholics Anonymous, her excessive alcohol use had resolved itself. The maternal grandmother said that the mother was a totally different person than one year ago, and that if she did move out of their house they would not let her get “so low again”.
  15. The maternal grandparents said to the Family Consultant, when asked about the mother’s current alcohol consumption, that she had a vodka every now and then. They also said that the mother no longer resorted to alcohol when she was upset.
  16. As a result of the maternal grandparents not being witnesses in the mother’s case they were not cross-examined in respect of the matters that they had said to the Family Consultant, which contradicted the mother’s evidence in relation to her drinking as at the date of the Family Report interviews.
  17. A number of risks which have been identified by the Family Report writer relating to excessive use of alcohol are as follows:
    1. There is a history of violent behaviour by the mother during periods of time when she says she was affected by alcohol;
    2. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with all major forms of child abuse and neglect. It can often lead to children’s educational outcomes suffering because the alcohol abusing parent is unable to assist them with school work or ensure that they attend school on time. Alcohol abuse can also lead to parents using inconsistent parenting strategies leading to confusion and behavioural difficulties in children. In the matter of small children and major risk from alcohol use arises when the parent’s alcohol use impact on their ability to adequately supervise the children placing them at significant risk of physical harm;[13] and
    1. Alcohol use can have an impact on mental health and there is a chance that the mother’s alcohol use could trigger a mental health episode which may place the children at risk of harm.
  18. The Court finds that these risks as identified by the Family Consultant are probable and not remote. They are real risks of harm and they are unacceptable. They exist at present, on the facts as found in these Reasons. The Court finds that if the mother was to move into her own residence again, or experience additional stressors, there is a risk that her alcohol consumption would become even more problematic.
  19. The Court finds that the risk of harm to the children if they were to continue to live with the mother is significantly higher than if they were to spend time with her.
  20. The Court also finds that the risk of harm to the children is significantly lower in the father’s household than in the mothers.
  21. The mother has not availed herself of any external support in respect of her historical and current alcohol use. This is so despite the clear recommendations in the Family Report for her to do so.

Parental Responsibilities

  1. The parties both seek an order for equal shared parental responsibility.
  2. One of the issues which had arisen between the parties regarding long term decision making associated with the children’s health was whether or not the children should be immunised.
  3. Initially the mother had taken the view, which she still held at the time of the Family Report interviews, that the children should not be immunised. She was aware that the father did not share this view.
  4. The mother changed her views about immunisation after having discussions with the father. Subsequently, both children have been fully immunised.
  5. The mother agreed that her and the father are able to discuss the children’s future health needs and come to a joint decision.
  6. At present, the parents have a relatively good co-parenting relationship. It is a relationship which has certainly improved since the Family Report interviews, and appears to be working reasonably well.
  7. Section 61C of the Act provides that each of the parents of a child who is not 18 years has parental responsibility for the child. This section states the legal position that prevails in relation to parental responsibility to the extent to which it is not displaced by a parenting order.[14] Section 61DA provides for a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility that the Court must apply when making a parenting order. In this instance, the presumption is not rebutted.
  8. The Court hopes that with appropriate intervention the difficulties in the parties’ relationship will improve, hence the Order pursuant to s.13C.
  9. The parents live within a reasonable proximity of each other, and this of itself would not be an inhibition to the children living with the parents on either of the two basis referred to in s.65DAA.
  10. Neither child is yet of school age. Neither parent objects to the other’s proposal for day care and/or primary school for the children. The distance between the two households may prove slightly more challenging once one or both children commence formal schooling. However, this is not a matter of itself, or even when combined with other factors would contraindicate equal on significant and substantial time.
  11. The parents have had difficulties in the past, both in term of their ability to communicate with each other and also in terms of the capacity to implement parenting arrangements between them. If such past difficulties are any indication of what the future brings, then equal or significant and substantial time is contraindicated. Coupled with this is the Family Report writers’ opinion that the parental conflict and lack of communication would appear to exclude an equal time arrangement being in the children’s best interest.
  12. There is no evidence about how an equal time arrangement might impact on the children, or indeed significant and substantial time.
  13. What the Family Report does recommend is that the children should continue to live with the mother and spend significant and substantial time with the father, to include both weekend and weekday time. This recommendation is of course made, barring any significant risk issues identified for each household.
  14. Further, the Family Report writer opines that if the mother does not take adequate steps to address her alcohol use, then the father may need to consider taking on the care of the children in a more significant way. This is exactly what the father has done.
  15. Unlike the mother, who has not taken on board the very important recommendations in the Family Report to address her issues through alcohol counselling prior to a final decision being made in this parenting matter, the father has stepped up to the task and made the decision to seek orders for the children to live with him.


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