Older children to live with Father

Older children to live with Father

Woolley & Woolley

Three children aged 16, 13 and 9 – parents separated since 2011 – children initially living on a week about basis with each of the parents – significant mental health allegations – risk of harm to children and need to protect – best interests of children – parental responsibility – children to live with father – children to spend limited time with mother.

Concerns about the Mother’s Behaviour and Mother’s Mental Health

  1. On 25 July 2014, the mother became an involuntary patient at (omitted) Hospital. She was discharged after five weeks hospitalisation. The reasons for the referral are noted as:

Odd behaviour, erratic driving, knife in bag. Persecutory delusions worries about 3 sons. Previous similar 5 episodes for 3 days, nil formal diagnosis or admission.

  1. On the day she became an involuntary patient, the mother had been driving erratically with a workmate who jumped out of her moving car. The mother crashed the car and called a tow truck and mechanic. The mechanic called the police and ambulance due to the mother’s “abnormal” behaviour. The mother explained she was driving fast because she was worried about her son, she wanted to see him. She wanted to “just drive past school gate to see him”.
  2. While she was in hospital, the mother was assessed as being at high risk of absconding from the hospital and as suffering from “psychotic disorder”.[22]
  3. On 7 August 2014 the Mental Health Review Tribunal held an inquiry pursuant to sections 34 and 35 of the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW) to determine whether or not the mother was a mentally ill person. The Tribunal determined that the mother was a mentally ill person and that she must be detained in (omitted) Hospital as an involuntary patient until 28 August 2014.[23]
  4. In the “Report to the Mental Health Inquiry Hearing to be held on August 7, 2014[24] Dr H, the Psychiatric Registrar noted as follows:

Diagnosis: Schizophrenia

Ms Woolley was brought to (omitted) Hospital on 25/07/14 by ambulance due to concern for her mental state and welfare. Dr A reviewed her on 25/07/14 and detained her as a mentally disordered person… Dr S reviewed Ms Woolley on 28/07/14 and found her to be a mentally ill person… requiring hospitalisation as the least restrictive form of care to prevent potential harm.

The first day of Ms Woolley’s admission she attempted to abscond from hospital. She lacks insight with regards to her psychotic symptoms and the need for inpatient treatment. She does not understand the potential risks posed to herself in the community before admission to hospital…

She has been visited by her family throughout this admission. The first visit she examined the children whilst in hospital. The most recent visit has gone better where she hasn’t felt the need to examine or question them about their welfare… She indicated that it would be good for the children to attend a GP weekly to ensure they have not been abused.

…Ms Woolley is too unwell to make rational, informed decisions for herself… Her behaviour would jeopardise current relationships with family and friends.

  1. After the inpatient treatment she received, a mental health community treatment order was made for the mother to attend at the (omitted) Community Health Centre to obtain treatment from Dr J for her mental health illness. The treatment plan is dated 20 August 2014.[25] The order expired in February 2015.
  2. On 24 September 2014, during the time she was receiving treatment under the mental health community treatment order, the clinical impression notes as follows:

Ms Woolley is recovering from a psycotic (sic) episode floowing (sic) from a period of increased stress after marriage breakup and consequent upon financial problems.
Ms Woolley describes this current episode as the third episode where she has “lost control of her thoughts” during times of stress and become very concerned about her safety and the safety of her children.
Ms Woolley has good insight into her needing to slow down and look after herself and continue to take medication to avoid future episodes.
Ms Woolley is more willing to see a psychologist to look at her chronic underlying fears which are behind her paranoid psycotic (sic) episodes.[26]

  1. The mother moved back to Sydney from the (omitted) in early 2015, after the community treatment order lapsed and was attempting to disengage from mental health services. She was only seen on an infrequent basis.
  2. In letter dated 2 June 2015, Dr J who was treating the mother pursuant to the mental health community treatment order indicated that as at the date of examination[27] the mother was “bright and engaging” and “there was no evidence of mood or thought disorder and no psychotic symptoms”.
  3. At that time the mother was continuing with her visits with the community mental health nurse and with the medication which had been prescribed to her.
  4. While not all such records are Exhibits before the Court, in preparing the Family Report, Dr L had access to and perused the subpoenaed material in the proceedings. Noted at the commencement of the Family Report is the following:
    1. In the notes from (omitted) Hospital:

25 June 2015: maternal grandmother concerned about the mother’s mental health state. Breakdown in living arrangements with maternal grandmother, mother was living in a caravan in the backyard of the grandmother’s house.

  1. On 27 July 2015, Ms L, a long term friend of the mother’s telephoned the (omitted) Community Health requesting advice in regards to the mother. The mother was staying with Ms L at the time as she had had a falling out with her mother. Ms L reported of the mother:

She doesn’t even admit she has a problem. Not currently taking any medication. She is quite manic and repeats herself over and over and talks to herself constantly – conversations are very strange and she appears to be on the brink of another breakdown…

  1. The mother describes her parents as “too distant, uncaring and abusive.”[28] She goes on to say:

My Family, including my brother, father and mother are no longer of any support top (sic) me and I have cut ties entirely with my Mother in order to proceed into a life of my own with a more appropriate support system around me based on the abusive system I have come out of….
My parents are estranged, my long-time friend Ms L is estranged…
If I had been in the hands of a caring family I would have been removed from the hospital at (omitted) immediately and cared for privately but as my Mother is now an accused abuser I am willing to assume that she was and is not interested in my achieving at all but would rather see my demise…

Dr R

  1. On 6 July 2015 the mother was referred by Dr Y to Dr R, psychiatrist. The letter to Dr R read: “The court wants her to see a psychiatrist every three months.” A mental health assessment was enclosed, which indicated the following history:

Attended (omitted) Hospital for panic/anxiety in he (sic) past. Has been admitted to Hospital last hear for 5 weeks for manic episode. Moved to the (omitted) to live with mother. Attends counselling session at (omitted) Hospital every 3 months, Sees psychiatrist Dr J at (omitted) Hospital. Now discharged from their care.

      1. The mother saw Dr R on 3 occasions: 1 September 2015, 2 December 2015 and 29 March 2016.
      2. The mother has maintained throughout the hearing that she does not and has not suffered from schizophrenia and that she had Adjustment Disorder with Anxious Mood.
      3. Importantly for the mother’s case is the letter from Dr R dated 1 September 2015, which was provided to the mother. The letter reads:
        This is to certify that I assessed Ms Woolley on Tuesday 1 September 2015.


She separated from her husband in November 2011, after being together for 20 years. They have three children, two boys aged 15 and 12 and daughter seven.


Prior to her hospitalisation in 2014, she had no past history of psychiatric problems. Since her separation, she has experienced one or two brief episodes of anxiety. In July 2014, she hit a kerb and damaged her car. She became upset and police were called. She was admitted to (omitted) and remained there five weeks. She was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and treated with Abilify.


In my opinion, there is no evidence to support that diagnosis. It is more likely that she suffered an Adjustment Disorder with Anxious Mood. I could find no evidence of psychiatric disorder when I assessed her on 1 September 2015. In my opinion, she does not need any further psychiatric assessment or treatment. She has not been on medication for several months.

      1. Also in evidence is a letter from Dr R to Dr Y reporting on the outcome of treatment. Dr R stated:
        Thank you for asking me to see this 41 year old woman who separated from her husband in November 2011 and thereafter had shared care of their three children, two sons aged 15 and 12 and a daughter seven. However, she began to feel harassed by her ex-husband and one day in July 2014 she was driving her car somewhat too rapidly when she hit a gutter. She drove to a mechanic but was told she should have gone to a smash repairer. It seems then she possibly panicked a little and became a little out of control and the police were called. She was taken to (omitted) and admitted there for five weeks. She did not appear before the Tribunal until four weeks after admission and was then discharged from the Mental Health Act. Evidently there was a working diagnosis of Schizophrenia. After discharge she saw Dr J at (omitted) and, according to her, he didn’t think she had Schizophrenia and nor do I.


She struck me as a somewhat volatile person and I suspect that what happened in July of last year was a degree of anxiety. She was treated with Abilify and Paroxetine while in hospital but has not been on any medication for the past few months.


She has no history of psychiatric disorder prior to 2014, she has only been a social drinker, and has not used recreational drugs apart from experimenting as an adolescent. I have given her a letter stating that in my opinion she does not have a major psychiatric disorder, and that I do not think that the court directions to see a psychiatrist every three months is necessary. I will not be seeing her again.

  1. The Progress Notes of 2 December 2015 indicate that the mother returned because the Court had ordered her to see a psychiatrist, however, Dr R was not prepared to take that on. Dr R had told the mother that he had not discovered any significant mental illness in her and that if the Court did not accept this they would need to go and get a second opinion from a forensic psychiatrist.
  2. When the mother returned to see Dr R on 29 March 2016, he indicated again that in his opinion “there is no evidence to support a diagnosis of Schozophrenia”.
  3. It appears that Dr R only had available to him the limited information from the mental health assessment from Dr Y, and what the mother had self-reported.
  4. In respect of her mental health difficulties the mother most recently said as follows[29]:

… I have since been diagnosed with anxiety and an adjustment disorder which I am monitoring and have a health plan, counsellor and GP to support me …
My initial diagnoses (sic) has been investigated for the last two years and I have been rediagnosed for some months now with adjustment disorder and anxiety… I have suffered from terrible discrimination, liable (sic) and defamation of character. These accusations have been based on the children’s information, my mother’s information, my ex-husband’s information and the disability employment services team all of whom I have suffered some kind of abuse or discrimination from.

Recent Events

  1. On 26 September 2015, the mother attended (omitted) Police Station. She demanded a report that she is not suffering from Bi-polar disorder and she produced a doctor’s certificate stating that she had been misdiagnosed and had not been medicated for several months.[30]
  2. On 27 September 2015, the mother attended (omitted) Police Station again. She wanted to obtain an Apprehended Violence Order against the father on the basis that she would be attending a family event soon and she did not want the father to approach her. She stated that there was no current domestic violence incident, that she had no fears, that her children were not involved, that she had no injuries, that no intimidation existed and that no threats had been made.[31]
  3. The mother has alleged that on 19 October 2015, the father entered her home and raped her. The Police records indicate that the mother was not sure if it “had actually happened or she dreamt it.”[32]
  4. The father denies any such allegation of rape. The first time that the father found out about the allegation was on 30 October 2015 when he was telephoned by (omitted) Police. The father and his wife co-operated with the Police investigations and the father provided a DNA sample to the Police. The Police have indicated to him that he has been ruled out of the investigation.[33]
  5. After being told by the Police about the rape allegation on 30 October 2015, the father formed the view that the mother was suffering from a mental health episode and that the children would not be safe in the mother’s care at that stage. The children did not spend time with the mother between October 2015 and April 2016 in accordance with existing orders but rather for two hours each weekend. The mother appeared to be confused and forgetful at times with respect to the arrangements for the children. The mother and children continued to have telephone conversations, during some of which the mother appeared to be confused.
  6. In January 2016 the mother advised the father that she had made a report to Family and Community Services[34] about X’s foot. The child had suffered a sporting injury, had surgery and was undergoing physiotherapy.
  7. In February 2016, the mother advised the father that she had made a further complaint to the FaCS about bruises on Z’s shins. The father was aware that Z had a bruise on her leg, probably from playing at school.
  8. On 21 April 2016, the mother attended upon her GP. During the consultation “…she alternated to speaking rationally for a few minutes which the (sic) descended into shouting and crying about her present situation. This scenario continued for over 30 mins.”
  9. On 26 June 2016, when the children were returned to the father after spending time with the mother, they reported that the mother was yelling and swearing, that she had stomped on a soft toy at the car park because she was so angry and that she had said to the children that their father wanted her dead in a hole so he could stomp on her and so a dog would eat her. The children were all feeling worried and scared. X said to the father afterwards that what the mother had been telling them sounded reasonable and that they didn’t know who to believe.
  10. When she was cross-examined about this episode on 26 June 2016, the mother admitted to being angry with the children, to stomping on a soft toy [35] and to saying that their father would prefer if she was not in the children’s lives, that she was dead and buried. The mother said that she was entitled to have her say and to explain to the children what was going on[36].
  11. The mother has not been compliant with medication or therapeutic treatment with respect to her mental health issues. She has little, if any, insight into her mental health vulnerabilities and the need for ongoing treatment and assistance.
  12. As Dr L pointed out in her evidence, research studies have confirmed that the coming together of therapy and medication is what provides the best outcomes for mental health patients. One of the roles of mental health specialists because of the ongoing relationship with clients is that they are able to assess any signs of mental health deterioration in their clients. It was very concerning to the expert that the mother unilaterally decided not to comply with the recommended regime of mental health care.[37]

The Evidence of the Report Writer

  1. Dr L was “blown away” at the mother’s application for the children to live with her and spend time with the father. She said that it was the father who had been a consistent, reliable and fair presence in the children’s lives. They boys had clearly stated that that’s the household where they perceive their safety and security needs have been met.
  2. Dr L had assessed that the father had very much been helping the mother at times when there was some kind of disorganisation around meeting the needs of the children.
  3. She wondered at the mother’s proposal particularly considering her affidavit material where the mother made reference to lack of support persons in her life. Dr L said that the mother’s proposal leaves the children at risk if there was to be further relapses or inabilities on the mother’s part.
  4. The mother’s proposal, given her current living circumstances as set out in her Affidavit, highlighted to Dr L serious limitations. It raised for the expert questions of stability and security for the children and also raised questions about the capacity of the mother to plan for the needs of the children.
  5. The risk to the children, arising as a result of the mother making allegations against the father in the future, was also assessed by Dr L. Such risks, as a result of the destabilisations that this will create for the children in their father’s household and their relationship with the mother as a by-product of either becoming directly or indirectly involved with allegations, stood to confirm the recommendations made in the Family Report.
  6. Dr L’s assessment of the mother was that she did not have a lot of insight regarding her behaviour at the time that she suffered the psychotic episode. If the children are exposed to psychotic behaviour during time with their mother or behaviour that is undermining and information soliciting that is damaging, it places children at some risk and that may lead to the children withdrawing. Some of the mental health episodes which the mother has suffered have been of a serious nature that has placed the mother and others at serious risk – because of the dangers that have been inherent at times when the mother had episodes of psychosis.
  7. Dr L was of the opinion that there needed to be some transparency as to the mental health wellbeing of the mother. If there was to be a relapse or incidents of episodes of mood disorder or psychosis that needed to be factored into time the children spend with the mother.
  8. In respect of the father, Dr L was of the view that the fact that none of the children expressed any views that countered them having a meaningful relationship with their mother, was testimony to the father’s and his wife’s capacity to keep the mother alive in the children’s minds:

… it’s often not the case that the parent who has primary residence of children is able to foster/nurture the relationship with the other parent and there are no indications from the children that their relationship in any way had been undermined, given reason for alienation on part of father or Ms P – this is strength. They still want a connection with her.

  1. The father was said to have been fairly very discerning and very fair in way he had in the past made calls suspending time between the children and the mother due to his concerns about the mother’s mental health.
  2. In answer to the mother’s questions as to whether the children were aware of the father’s ‘accusations and allegations’ against the mother in respect of her mental health, Dr L said as follows:

They didn’t make disclosures to me that they had been involved in adult conversations. I think that they perhaps have been in the incident for example that happened at the park. If there was conversation about their father that’s inappropriate but the children – compared to children in family law disputes – they certainly didn’t present like children who have been highly or to any extent as children who have been exposed to details of the allegations or details of the proceedings. Their disclosures were based on their relationship with yourself, Mr Woolley and Ms P and with each other and I saw that as a very healthy presentation on the part of the children, notwithstanding all of the difficulties that have occurred, they have been shielded.

  1. Of the children’s relationships with the parents, Dr L said that:
    The children have had stability, security, in the household of the father and they have had a bit of an up and down ride with the mother; they sometimes saw the mother they knew and sometimes a mother that is confusing to them. It would be a dreadful loss to the children if they were to have no time with the mother, and there is a risk that the children, Y in particular, would seek the mother out if there were no spend time with orders.
  2. Dr L recommended that the children attend as a unit when spending time with the mother, and that until such time as Z was about 12 or 13, she should not be spending any time alone with the mother. Dr L opined that Y was particularly vulnerable as he felt quite responsible for the mother’s wellbeing. The children were assessed as a fairly intact sibling group, who have been through times when they have had to be there for each other, particularly while in the mother’s care.
  3. In the opinion of Dr L:

Where there are mental health issues with a parent the combination of hereditary and environment is what makes a person vulnerable to mental health concerns, I would think stressors for example allegations that require investigation, stresses regarding observing mothers dysregulation would be … uncertainty of the mother’s state of health, would all be factors that the children should be shielded from.

A meaningful relationship needs to happen in the context of the children feeling safe, not being grilled for information, allegations that are unfounded, there were some very serious concerns about how that was being managed…


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