High risk parent – should child spend time with them?
Parenting – whether a child aged 9 should spend time with her father – where the father has not seen the child for four years – where the father has been convicted of filming and attempting to film the child’s older half-sister in a private act and is on the Child Protection Register – where the father maintains that he has addressed his problems of voyeurism and viewing pornography and poses no risk of harm to his daughter – where the child’s half-sister made much more serious allegations about the father but where a jury failed to convict him of any other offences – where the mother believes the additional allegations and opposes the child spending time with the father on the basis that she may be at risk of sexual harm if she does so – assessment of risk – extent to which the court should take into account the impact on the mother and step-daughter of an order for the child to spend time with the father.
- I cannot be sure what X’s views about spending time with her father are at present but this is very much a case in which a child’s views do not determine the outcome.
- As noted above, I accept that the risk of sexual harm to X could be rendered acceptable if X spent professionally supervised time with the father. However, orders for long term supervised time are problematic and are not often made and indeed are not usually made if there is no prospect of time becoming unsupervised at some point, and I cannot foresee a time when unsupervised time would be appropriate in this matter.
- Not only could X be at risk of sexual harm if unsupervised time occurred, there is also the risk that the father would not be able to resist giving her his version of events about his offending and offering up some criticism of A.
- The father said the following to the family report writer:
I’m upset (with A) I’d love to sit around a table and talk things out. I would apologise for what I’ve done but she needs to take accountability for what she’s done. We’re both to blame there.
- The father may not immediately give in to the urge to tell X his side of the story, but in cross-examination he was very clear to say:
She [X] has been told a lie. In some manner it needs to be addressed so the truth can be told.
- He then added:
I wouldn’t discuss it with her – not at the moment, no.
- However, given that he has repeated on a number of different occasions that he is upset with A for lying and given that he lacks empathy it is hard to believe that he would not at some point give in to the urge to set X straight about what he considers to be the truth.
- This would lead to a situation in this already stressed and fractured family where X had to move between two households in one of which A continued to maintain that the father’s offending was much more extensive than the father admits and where the mother supports her and has conveyed the additional information to X and in the other of which A was considered to be a liar and a degree of anger was felt toward her. This would inevitably create psychological stress for X.
- Supervised time would of course protect both against the risk of sexual harm and the risk of the father causing X psychological distress by telling her his version of events and there are occasions when an order is made for supervised time on a long term basis
- The advantages of this for X are that she would be able to re-establish and maintain a connection of some kind with her father and through him with the paternal family.
- However, the benefit she would derive would be slight if the time was of limited duration and professionally supervised. It could be very unsettling for her and it would not allow her to have much of a relationship with her father and I am not prepared to make an order which would deliver little benefit to her and may unsettle her when it would be very hard for her primary family unit to deal with such an order and may cause considerable psychological confusion for X as she tried to integrate the father she experienced during supervised time with the father described by the mother and A.
- I cannot find that the mother’s parenting capacity would be affected if I made an order for supervised time.
- The Independent Children’s Lawyer in submissions pointed out that the mother was a person with vulnerabilities and after the incident in 2012, she not only had to cease work and ask her mother to come to Australia but very shortly afterwards decided to relocate to (country omitted) and then came back after about 10 months. Considerable time has now passed and the mother has had time to process things. She is working and has ties in the community There was no medical evidence to establish that her parenting capacity would be affected if an order was made for time to occur and the mother said that if she had to comply with and order she would.
- However, the mother has strong views about what has occurred and feels guilt about what happened to A and how she handled the situation. She is determined to protect X and in cross-examination said as follows:
I am refusing to make the same mistake again and I won’t make it.
- The mother’s support of an order for supervised time would at best be half-hearted and there is merit in the following submission by the Independent Children’s Lawyer:
……..without the support of the mother and her facilitation of counselling to prepare and assist X for reintroduction and ongoing interaction with her father, then the risk of psychological harm to her is in the ICL’s submission, unacceptable.
- This submission was predicated on the view that X was now rejecting of the father and I do not accept that it is open to me to find that, but even absent that the submission still has considerable merit. I am satisfied that the mother would find it impossible to positively support X being re-introduced to her father.
- Children who do not have a relationship with one of their parents suffer a loss, even when that has come about due to the actions of the parent. During cross-examination, the family report writer mentioned such outcomes as a child thinking that they are unloved or not loveable enough. Another loss for the child in this case is the loss of a relationship with her extended paternal family. It is most unlikely that the mother and paternal grandparents will ever be able to reach an agreement about X spending time with the grandparents.
- However, the father must accept responsibility for the loss visited on X and I cannot because of that loss make orders which will place her at unacceptable risk of physical and psychological harm.
- The Independent Children’s Lawyer proposed that if the court determined that X should not spend time with her father, it should nevertheless order that the father be permitted to send her cards and gifts for her birthday and Christmas. Presumably the intent behind it was that if the cards and gifts were sent X would know that she father still loved her.
- The family report writer did not support this. She said that she could see no benefit in the child being reminded at regular intervals by the receipt of cards and gifts that a person she used to live with was no longer part of her life, and that it could be unsettling for her rather than of benefit for her. She was strongly of the view that if there was no time there should be no cards, gifts or phone calls.
- There is merit in this view and I do not intend to make an order allowing the father to send cards and gifts to X.
- The Independent Children’s Lawyer proposed an order that the mother ensure that the father was notified if X was admitted to hospital with a life threatening condition or diagnosed as suffering from a life threatening illness. At first glance this seems an attractive proposition but in circumstances where the father is not permitted to see the child, what would be the benefit of such an order for the child? Would it be reasonable to consider re-introducing her the father when she was gravely ill? An order such as this is a valid order if a parent is seeing a child but the Independent Children’s Lawyer did not explain in submissions why this order was sought and I cannot see how this order would benefit the child.
- I am also not minded to make the order proposed by the Independent Children’s Lawyer requiring the mother to obtain advice from a counsellor to implement a plan to prepare X to deal with discovering information about her father in relation to these or any other court proceedings involving the father or her sister A. It is to be hoped that the mother will continue to obtain assistance for X but this is at best a motherhood statement in circumstances and is unenforceable in circumstances where the father will have no involvement in the child’s life.
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